LIVE: The Joy Formidable – Islington Assembly Hall, London 24.11.19

“Maybe we should’ve started a Bee Gees tribute band? They’re big in Mold” jokes Ritzy Bryan, lead vocalist & guitarist of alternative trio The Joy Formidable. She’s talking about her Welsh hometown, and how her affinity with the Flintshire county is stronger than ever, 10 years after releasing the band’s debut EP, A Balloon Called Moaning. “Matt’s got the shirt for it”, bassist Rhydian Dafydd chimes in, as drummer Matt Thomas feigns offense and laughs off the comment.

Fans who have been following the band for the last decade will be used to these charming chats between songs. The trio are on form once again at The Islington Assembly Hall, as they’re in town to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their first EP. Before the jokes start rolling out, the trio have already ripped through three of A Balloon Called Moaning‘s tracks; ‘The Greatest Light’, ‘Cradle’, and ‘Austere’. The room is full of fans and friends – including previous drummer Justin, who gets multiple shout outs – and the feeling is one of excitement and mutual gratitude for the dynamic sound of a band who have weathered this uncertain industry for the last decade.

“This is the farewell tour” teases Rhydian, before quickly adding “Jokes! There’s new music in 2020”. “Who knows what song’s coming next?” Ritzy interjects, as she plucks the opening notes to ‘While The Flies’. The band play the tracks in the order they’re listed on the EP, giving their fans the full A Balloon Called Moaning experience. The enduring power of ‘Whirring’ comes next, with its thudding drum beats, as well as the extended outro that didn’t make the cut on the original EP. It’s followed by stripped back lament ‘9669’. Ritzy and Rhydian’s call-and-response vocals are delivered with grace and gravitas, as the lyrics give insight into an intimate conversation. It’s offset perfectly by penultimate track ‘The Last Drop’ with its manic stop-start rhythms and bold percussion.

Final EP track ‘Ostrich’ is still a dizzying wall of sound when heard live. It’s a mixture of buzzing riffs, longing vocals, and relentless percussion that forms an all-consuming, disorientating aural blur. The crowd are unsure of what comes next – as the EP tracklist has now been completed – but the band burst into ‘Y Bluen Eira’, followed by the powerful ‘I Don’t Want To See You Like This’, lifted from their 2011 album The Big Roar. These non-EP tracks are greeted with the same amount of enthusiasm.

‘Passerby’, a b-side track from 2016 album Hitch, prefaces a stripped back version of ‘The Leopard & The Lung’. Lifted from their 2013 album Wolf’s Law, Ritzy introduces the track with a message about caring for, and protecting our environment. Rhydian’s gentle keys and the pairs dual vocals make this song a real set highlight. Next, they ask the crowd if there’s a track they’d like to hear, and after lots of inaudible shouts, the band settle for ‘Caught On A Breeze’, before leaving the stage.

They return for an encore of ‘Anemone’ – influenced by the tragedies of John Webster – and the formidable ‘The Everchanging Spectrum Of A Lie’. It’s an apt song to close with, as the trio have evolved and grown over the last decade into gracious, and talented performers. There’s nothing to lament about their celebratory performance of A Balloon Called Moaning, and that is a fitting legacy for a formidable record, produced by an equally formidable band.

Order your 10 Year Anniversary reissue of A Balloon Called Moaning/Y Falŵ​n Drom on vinyl here.

Photo Credit: Steve Reynolds

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut