Gig Review: Girl Ray @ Thekla
by Alice Lacey
"I have no idea why I'm the lead singer: clearly I can't sing," says front woman Poppy Hankin, introducing the evening's set with an awkward humility and ensuring an enchanted audience from the word go. Indeed, it is this kind of unguarded candour coupled with a knack for writing refreshingly witty and wistful pop ditties that has earned the North London teen trio an ever growing fan-base and raving reviews of their recent debut album, Earl Grey, across the board.
Girl Ray, comprised of Poppy Hankin (vocals, guitar), Iris McConnell (drums), Sophie Moss (bass) have risen through the ranks of indie/lo-fi/pop land at a velocity that may have caught them unawares (their surprise at the heaving Thekla being obvious) but having seen them live, it’s not hard to see why people like them so much. Their debut album, Earl Grey is full of deceptively small songs with huge waves of heart-on-sleeve feelings encapsulating the joy, the sadness, and sweetest moments of being a teenager, with a sound that can only be described as: their own.
It's true, several of Girl Ray's tracks (such as album opener "Just Like That", and recent single "Stupid Things") with their nod to 1960's motown and winsome harmonies, can clearly be likened to early Belle and Sebastian or Hefner. However, they do more than try to recreate another band's sound. Indeed, their arrangements are arguably more complex than Belle and Sebastien, layering "Brian Wilson-esque" harmonies and artfully using horns, strings, keyboards and cow bell, without things ever becoming 'twee' or a pastiche and live, this is done with understated ease.
"Earl Grey is full of deceptively small songs with huge waves of heart-on-sleeve feelings"
Despite Hankin's early protestations regarding the quality of her vocals; there are no complaints here. Certainly, her intense, deadpan delivery is what makes Girl Ray unique. They bring to mind my own personal heroes such as Nico, or even an early Vashti Bunyan (but with slightly less melancholia); amplifying the feeling that the trio are wise beyond their years. The standout songs of the night were those that showcased Hankin's voice and the group's skills as musicians, particularly the sparkling "Don't Go Back At Ten" and bass-heavy "Trouble" which were met with particular enthusiasm by a clearly delighted audience.
There were, admittedly, a couple of false starts. A couple of broken guitar strings and a few sound check requests that took longer than they should have done, but the good-natured way the band dealt with these blips, and the sheepish grins that followed only amplified the audience's fondness for the trio. Most importantly, when they did get it right, my word did they get it right – the blips only serving to augment the band's obvious talent.
Overall, this was wonderfully good-spirited evening and a band I would cheerfully see again if asked. They may not be a polished, perfected article yet but they're clearly going onto great things and fast. In any event, as the great Oscar Wilde aptly said, "I don't play accurately--any one can play accurately--but I play with wonderful expression…. sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life.” Who am I to argue with such wisdom?
Girl Ray's debut album, Earl Grey is out now on Moshi Moshi records. Catch them live whilst you can.