Come Play With Me & Girls Can Play Guitar Present: Laura Kindelan, Heju & The Sunkissed Child
Izzy Hobbs’ project, Girls Can Play Guitar, promised a chilled and inspiring event showcasing a blend of Funk, Jazz & Contemporary Soul from some of the most talented female artists in Leeds. GCPG is a relatively young music platform with clear aims to “erase the stereotypes around being a womxn in the music industry.” Born from her own experience of unconscious bias as a gigging musician, Izzy points to the countless times that others have mistaken her for “a friend of the band, rather than a member of it.” This night, whilst only being the second organised by GCPG – after their incredible debut event at Oporto for International Women’s Day earlier this year – is a testament to Izzy’s years of experience putting on gigs prior to getting GCPG off the ground.
Alongside Izzy is Come Play With Me, who have been in the game a little longer and have a fantastic reputation for promoting the wealth of new musical talent that comes from Leeds since 2015. Their ‘Singles Club’ is an exciting and eclectic mix of tracks from up-and-coming artists on 7” vinyl releases and I’d definitely recommend checking it out. The combined curation and events experience on show here had me very excited for my first trip up to Belgrave in a while!
For those reading who haven’t yet had the pleasure of visiting Belgrave Music Hall, the family of venues of which Belgrave is a part and associated events company Super Friendz, are both Leeds institutions known for putting on some of the City’s best talent. The expansive three-floor venue contains one of the best bars in Leeds at its lower level, with a great array of delicious street food and great DJs playing fantastic music (on vinyl!). Upstairs being, of course, a top contender for the most iconic roof terrace in the City. It is the middle floor, however, home to the ‘Snug Bar’ and famous 300 capacity music hall itself, where the live music magic happens. On arrival, it felt familiar and intimate as always, but I could feel a low buzz of excited anticipation around me. I think for many – myself included – this was our first live music outing in some time.
Opening the stage was Yasmina Nahas’ newest project The Sunkissed Child and what a way to open it was. Having just graduated from Leeds conservatoire this year and with their debut gig only 9 weeks ago, the first thing that struck me was how comfortable she was taking command of the audience and captivating the room.
The whole band had a playful, laid back vibe, but their musicianship and confidence was incredibly impressive from the very first note. From an instrumental front, Yasmina mentioned she usually plays with a 9 piece band as opposed to the smaller ensemble accompanying her on this occasion. But the set worked amazingly well, I particularly enjoyed the stripped back hand percussion on some of the slower, more soulful songs. There was also an incredible bass solo and a truly gorgeous, relaxed saxophone solo that had everyone swaying in contemplation. Yasmina’s voice is beautiful and her stylistic repertoire broad. Going from an emotionally rich and completely relatable piece about her life and growing up, to a frankly brilliant upbeat cover of Good News by Mac Miller, and finally into a lively Latin number on which she showed off more of her incredibly good – and multilingual – rapping skills! She promised her finale would “set the vibe for the evening, and get everyone dancing” and to her credit, it really did. I found her set full of soul and incredibly diverse, whilst still possessing a very recognisable sonic signature across the broad range of styles and genres she gave us.
Next up, Heju. She took to the front of the stage quietly and with no fuss, then just started singing. I thought that was a wonderful way to start as the room immediately fell silent. With a voice like hers, no introduction or pleasantries were necessary. As her set went on, she shared with the audience some wonderfully candid insights into her songwriting process and just her life really. Her conversation had everybody laughing or deep in thought between songs and it was just great to have another wonderfully interactive performer as well as a brilliant musician. Heju was supported vocally by two other amazing women and the vocal harmonies were perfect, ethereal at times. The technical skill of all three was underpinned by yet another fantastic band who were tight at all times, apart from one chord, but as Laura on guitar reminded the room, there are no wrong notes in jazz, right? Another great comedy moment that was handled with supreme class! It was becoming clear by this point in the night that the room was full of incredible musicians who all know each other very well and mostly studied together. They were all so comfortable and happy to be on stage, it made for a really nice atmosphere. Heju then went on to give us some beautiful songs in her native Korean. She’d mentioned how important some of these songs were to her growing up and it was such a treat to continue to be taken on the very broad musical as well as cultural journey that Yasmina had started. Heju’s whole set was a wonderful blend of sublime harmonies, sweeping melodic guitar interludes and funk in all the right places. Again, hugely diverse in terms of repertoire and incredibly talented. Make sure you check out Heju’s latest release, Afternoon Cigarette, available on the major streaming platforms and to buy from iTunes.
Finally, it was this evening’s girl who can, in no uncertain terms definitely play the guitar, Laura Kindelan. Her set was just perfect from the get-go. Her voice is absolutely incredible with real range from a warm and rich mid register up to the sort of airy highs that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The musicians were, again, all fantastic, with an amazing cellist joining the stage for a few stripped back acoustic songs which had that timeless, emotive character that strings never fail to impart. Laura herself is very skilled, not only with her instrument but also technology; being the only musician of the evening with her laptop on stage, using it for various vocal effects and electronic sounds, all played live, which made for a great performance. I always love it when musicians recreate as much of the studio on the stage as possible, so that was really exciting to hear. Laura was, again, so very engaging with the crowd and by this point the room had really filled up. She took us all on an intimate journey of what each song meant to her and it felt really quite special. All three of the wonderful women on stage tonight made it about much more than just listening to the music and you could genuinely feel all their passion for their art.
Laura gave us perhaps my favourite part of the night in a song called Take Care; a song that first of all would make an excellent Bond soundtrack – which should give you an idea of the calibre of the musicianship and writing – but also was just great to listen and dance to. It managed that rare blend of being real “musician’s music” that was great fun to witness from a point of sheer technical ability, whilst still being musical in a way that everyone seemed to enjoy. Luca Ferrara on drums absolutely blew the entire room away with his epic solo and the whole band just had an amazing vibe. Laura and everybody on stage delivered a brilliant set of amazing music. Leeds is full of incredible talent and apparently 90% of it was in Belgrave Music Hall with me!
I managed to get a few minutes to speak to Laura after her set as I was keen to hear how her experience of getting ready for this event, as well playing, had differed from her other gigs. Talking about Izzy of Girls Can Play Guitar, Laura said if she had to in one word, she would sum up working with her as a promoter as “comfortable”, in the best possible way. We chatted about how important that is and Laura recalled so many times where she “was the only girl in the room or on stage” and also mentioned that she could “probably count the number of female promoters she’s worked with on one hand”. Laura spoke very highly of working with GCPG and it was really great to hear that Izzy is living up to her mission of trying to make live music a more equitable environment for all the amazing talent that is out there. The night certainly felt to me, like a room full of amazing women, organised by amazing women, and I couldn’t have asked for a better end result. Laura also mentioned that she does have an EP in the works, so keep an eye out for that on her Instagram. I know I will!
And so back to the promise of the event. I’m pleased to say it more than delivered, both musically and as an experience. The night was brilliant and had that perfect blend of a relaxed atmosphere, and plenty of music that just compels you to dance, exactly the sort of night that Belgrave Music Hall has become synonymous with.
Thinking of the larger aims of GCPG, I particularly loved to see that it definitely delivered on Izzy’s pledge to “ensure that all our live events feature and shine a light on the female instrumentalists, womxn behind the scenes, as well as those in the spotlight.”
Talking to Izzy briefly afterwards I could see she was proud of how the night went, as she absolutely should be! I’m really looking forward to watching the project grow and, based on this night, I honestly can’t wait to see what Girls Can Play Guitar does next.
Find the artists on Instagram at:
Laura Kindelan @kindarlin
The Sunkissed Child @yasmina_nahas
Words and photography by Asli Champion. Feature image shows Laura Kindelan.