English Teacher played Bristol on October 27th.
There are so many elements that define the trajectory of a musician’s popularity.
Firstly, obviously, the songs need to be up to scratch, and the circumstances must be right unless you can define them. And of course, there’s a lot of luck involved too.
But charm. Charm goes a long way. It can hide something else, but it’s hard to fake. Lily Fontaine – vocalist and rhythm guitarist for Leeds’ English Teacher – has charm to spare. Whether it’s chatting amiably while signing merchandise after the show or apologising for the sheer volume of new (and therefore unknown) songs performed during it, people listen.
A Bristol audience is always receptive (so we tell ourselves) and Fontaine declares her appreciation for the crowd singing the ‘older’ material. ‘The magic of having someone sing words you’ve written back to you is insane,’ the singer gleefully declares after Song About Love which, admittedly, isn’t too tricky to catch up with (the last minute simply a chant of ‘tick-tocking love’) but the preceding hypnotic, single-note groove (think Psycho Killer) sets the foundations nicely. The song’s ragged magnificence lies in the thumping delivery, with Fontaine’s vocals substituted for shouts as the song reaches its end.
One of the older numbers played, the raw naivety is set in contrast to the elegance of some of the forthcoming material. I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying is every bit as uplifting as it sounds (complete with cello) with Fontaine’s narration evoking the matter-of-fact, disenchanted style of Dry Cleaning. As does Broken Biscuits, which raucously threatens, indeed seemingly wants, to fall apart but the band (completed by Douglas Frost on drums, Nicholas Eden on bass and Lewis Whiting on guitar and synths) refuse to let it.
Meanwhile, on two slower numbers Fontaine displays her vocal range. On the excellently titled You Blister My Paint (‘this is another new song – sorry!’) she fills the room, while the neon verse/heartfelt chorus on The Best Tears Of Your Life contains some full-on warbling. Your taste and patience for it may vary, but the passion and execution are unquestionable.
English Teacher are afforded patience by the audience as the treats are bountiful. Recent single The World’s Biggest Paving Slab opens the set with its widescreen, spectral chorus destined for larger rooms than this 140-capacity venue. Heavily played by BBC 6 Music, their comfortability with dispatching it early on belies their confidence; its ethereal otherness combined with its sheer heaviness (if you will) a winning combination. The bass holds the whole thing together, allowing the earworm of a guitar hook to fly.
Elsewhere the scraggly, frenetic Mental Maths is purposefully silly, with observational lyrics which could give black midi a run for their money, while Nearly Daffodils is equally impatient, less a song than an urgent, rattling journey (‘you can lead water to the daffodils but you can’t make them drink’) culminating at its art-rock-punk destination.
The jittery A55 meanwhile (‘sometimes you can have a bad experience and write a song about it, so it’s fine’) builds and crumbles in equal measure without settling for either state.
So confident that two songs from their most recent Polyawkward EP don’t even make the cut, the set ends with Albert Road, the type of song that can only be written during youth. Detailing the trappings of a hometown (‘don’t take that prejudice to heart, we hate everyone/that’s why they don’t get very far, that’s why they are how they are’), it’s a full-blooded, big-in-scale rock ballad, more conventional but no less enticing than English Teacher’s punchy output thus far.
Observational lyrics, talented musicianship and a diversity of sound bodes well for English Teacher, to say nothing of their endearing singer.
Did I mention she was wearing a sparkly Stetson?