As January lingers on it still feels like a time for looking forward and thinking on the future. That suits us just fine as in a way Belwood is all about looking forward as we champion new music and up-and-coming artists. It seems fitting then for my first gig of the year, of the decade even, to be Megan Dixon Hood, our ‘best new artist‘ pick for 2019. Based on her grand and mystical music released thus far, most notably her most recent powerhouse single ‘The Wishing Tree‘, I was adamant that 2020 was hers for the taking. Little did I know that she was planning on starting early by beginning the year with her first UK headline tour. Naturally I just had to make my way across to Manchester to see her in action.
I swear every time I come to Manchester I find myself in a different venue, never the same one twice. This stop on my tour around Manchester’s seemingly endless supply of venues found me at Gullivers in the Northern Quarter. The gig space was just the right kind of cosy, and the lighting was fantastic for such a small venue. I was still being hypnotised by the kaleidoscopic projection on the back curtain when the opening act Lissy Taylor took to the stage. It was a little bit of a shaky start, her nerves clearly getting in the way and her voice getting lost in the mix a few times, but she had certainly found her feet by the end. She and her band created a dark and dreamy atmosphere punctuated with some great riffs dripping with venom to add more of an edge to proceedings. In her more confident and assured moments in the latter half of the set you really started to hear Lissy’s voice shine through, full of attitude and purpose. There’s certainly promise here and she may well be one to watch.
Up next it was time for Secluded Sea, and the six of them only just managed to cram in on the small stage. It soon became clear though that each member was an essential part of the whole. The guitars and keys working in tandem to build a lush soundscape, one of the most rock solid rhythm sections I’ve seen in a small venue, and a charismatic frontwoman in a shimmering blue sequined dress who really knew how to work the crowd. Between them they provided a set full of warm and dreamy summer vibes, the kind that felt all the more inviting in the middle of a dreary winter. Both opening acts were better than I expected and between them were well worth the trip in their own right.
Obviously my expectations were high for Megan’s set. I don’t throw the title of ‘best new artist’ around willy-nilly after all. Even so, she still went above and beyond. Familiar songs from her Tales from the North EP like ‘Sea Of Ice’ and ‘Drown’ felt all the more dark and mystical in a live setting. She certainly knows how to craft a captivating atmosphere to the point where she made something rare and special seem effortless. I’d had a glimpse of this side of her music before of course, that’s what first drew me in after all, but we also got a glimpse of a fun and carefree side that hasn’t really been explored in her studio releases thus far. Songs that made you want to dance and twirl and lose your inhibitions (were you not crammed into cosy little venue space that is). A fair chunk of her set was dedicated to new music which leaves me excited for what the year ahead holds. The empowering ‘Athena’ and the superb sound of ‘The Great Unknown’ in particular are tracks I’m looking forward to hearing again hopefully in the near future.
Even with a voice as exquisite as Megan’s you still need a great band behind you to build up such resplendent soundscapes, and her band was on form throughout. Not just in their playing either, but also in how they seamlessly incorporated samples to build their sound even further, which is something I’ve seen even big bands struggle with. Their finest moment was the final song, and highlight of the night, ‘Wolves’. They made an already ambitious work feel even more epic and progressive. Naturally though Megan herself owned the night, with all the stage presence of Stevie Nicks and the thunderous vocals of Florence Welch. As far as the new year being hers for the taking, it already feels like she’s set the standard for 2020… and there’s eleven whole months still to go yet!