Gig review – Sonar Sessions at De Montfort University, Friday 26th January 2024

Luke Broughton. Photo (c) Adam Piotrowski

with Luke Broughton and Laura Dickinson

Reviewed by Adam Piotrowski

And so it was tonight, everything black and white. No, that’s not fair; yes there was a kind of absence of colour, this is true. But for it to truly be black and white, it would have to mean that everything was either pure white or pure black. That was not the case – there were a multitude of shades of grey, floating on the beams, flitting on the backdrop. I’m probably not making sense. Bear with me now – it should become clear.

Sonar Sessions in the Vijay Patel building, De Montfort University. Photo (c) Adam Piotrowski

This ‘Sonar Sessions’ event was the first in what may become a series of performances at the Gallery, a space created to display artwork, tonight has become a performance space. It fronts the Vijay Patel building on the De Montfort University campus, it’s curved glazing bowing out onto a good sized lawn. The room itself was full, all seats in the house taken and clusters of people standing and even sitting on bean bags at the front, where there was no stage as such, the musicians standing at the same level as the audience.

Laura Dickinson accompanied herself on electric guitar. The jangle of the strings was sometimes gruff, but more often cool and melodic, but really it was all about the poetry/spoken-word verse, and the words gently sung, tiny little moments thoughtfully reflected upon, others exploding into a million little pieces.

Behind the performer was a black racking that was covered in a white patterned sheet, filled with slowly projected images and shapes, the internal framework of the building slowly flashing with static, reflected on the windows and surfaces. We later learn that the abstract video content is footage of the nearby River Soar, just a stone’s throw from the venue.

The last song was a highlight; there was no guitar this time, but a looped melody, gentle waves of sound and a calmly delivered spoken word, musings, recommendations or better yet, an exploration of how one might live this life. A how-to guide on getting through the nights and days delivered in the infinitive.

Laura Dickinson. Photo (c) Adam Piotrowski

This was followed by a short interval, an informal shuffle – some people sat and enjoyed the ambience of the venue as the light movement continued, while others found themselves in the cold winter air looking out onto the grass under a full moon, breath visible. After the original early December date for the gig was postponed due to illness, the event was seemingly filled with a more reflective post New Year audience, than would have been in the hall in those frantic pre-Christmas days.

Things did slow down once we had been here for a while. Conversations tended to be in quieter tones – not many people looking at phones. The event was a success in this, it helped everyone forget what was outside these glass walls for a short time.

Luke Broughton took to the stage at 9pm. Their songs were slowly thumb-picked, a meditative and oftentimes pained falsetto filling the room. The hollow-bodied acoustic guitar sounded rich and warm in the open space and the full house did not make a peep except the odd pop of a can (this event was bring your own beverage) and the applause after each number.

There was little audience interaction, but it didn’t feel like there needed to be. The songs had a kind of gravity, a propulsion, the thumping of a meter over and over again. When Luke sang it wasn’t so much the words that we heard, but a sort of feeling, straight from the soul. There was a distinct rhythm and bones, a strong mood stretching throughout each song. The anguished vocals sometimes became a wordless melody and you could see how these songs could work really well, perhaps even better than they did in this form, with a kind raucous R.E.M sounding band chugging along behind them, complimenting the inflexions of the singing.

There was a certain intimacy to this performance, the simplicity and timelessness of a person and a guitar that rang true, which would have been lost. Broughton howled at the moon, eyes closed, defying genre, style and gender challenging the audience one song at a time.

The backdrop, along with the abstract video content also featured graphics and text. In this instance, the performance was enhanced not only by the epic building in which it was held, but also by the unique imagery and light that accompanied it. Here’s hoping that there are many more of these intimate evenings to come.

What can we expect from the otherworldly Luke Broughton next? The regular Take the Stage event at the Donkey which they host, featuring a diverse range of performers, is slated to be back soon, and there are also whispers of a new album underway. It will be interesting to hear to what extent Luke fills out the songs with other instruments and sounds, or whether the music stays very stripped back and intimate.

For Luke Broughton on Instagram, click here.
For Laura Dickinson on Soundcloud, click here.