words Ed Charlesworth
The Castle Hotel was embraced in the warm reverberations of an acoustic Jadu Heart on Thursday, one of several nationwide stops on their fittingly labelled “Bleak Midwinter” tour.
Conjuring an atmosphere akin to that of a pub-led hearthside sing-along, the band cast a drowsy spell upon the packed-sardine audience, exchanging synthesisers and drum machines for a softer, pseudo trad-folk setup.
Emerging wordlessly through the shoulder-to-shoulder audience, pints in hand, Jadu Heart made a decidedly understated entrance, eschewing the standard gig dramatics in favour of simplicity.
Settling upon fragile looking patio chairs, the band, consisting of core duo Diva Jeffrey and Alex Headford, alongside a pair of guest musicians introduced only as Theo and Nina, presided over a charmingly hodge-podge stage.
Crumpled water bottles, tangled wires, a lone snare drum and an upturned fruit crate, on top of which balanced a child sized keyboard, various drum brushes and an egg shaker, adorned the compact stage.
This was Jadu Heart with no frills.
Beginning the set with the audible tuning of their respective instruments, once again disregarding any semblance of overt stylisation, the band then launched into a cover of the instrumental track Christmas Time is Here, as featured in A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Despite the genuinely lovely rendition, the venue grew remarkably quiet, the audience a little unsure of how to react.
The “Bleak Midwinter” tour was promoted as acoustic, but a song from a children’s Christmas cartoon, no matter how lovely, was unexpected.
Alex seemed to recognise this, reassuring the audience that the next track would be “less festive”, before leading the band into consecutive performances of 2022’s Blame, and deepcut Caroline, a suggestion from the crowd at Alex’s behest.
The tracks, once hidden under layers of reverb and pulsating synth lines, were imbued with Wes Anderson-esque twee, the stripped back, folk reimaginings of both receiving rapturous applause.
Coupled with the band’s disarmingly laid back attitude, the charm of each was undeniable.
So, whilst the usual pretences of professionalism in a music performance setting, namely the dimming of the house lights, the hiding of unsightly cables and the tuning of one’s instruments with the volume lowered, were not present, neither were they needed.
Nina’s violin soared and fell, propelled by the plucked twang of Theos’ mandolin and the steady jangle of his foot taped to a tambourine. Diva’s precise, smooth voice met the rough hewn edge of Alex’s, the pair deftly interweaving and exchanging vocal lines.
Interspersed with brief snippets of band-audience communication, usually Alex asking for a member of the audience to buy him a pint, the band steadily worked through an eclectic mix of material, blurring fan favourites with tracks from their 2023 release, Derealised.
Walk The Line, an undisputed crowd-pleaser, marked a significant turning point for the overall atmosphere of the gig.
Corralled by Alex, the audience, hesitant at first, were instructed to sing along with the chorus hook, a melodic line of consecutive ‘lah’s’.
The initial hesitancy displayed was quickly superseded by increasing blood alcohol levels within the crowd, Diva’s vocals becoming less audible as the chorus grew louder and the crowd slightly rowdier.
This energy carried through the rest of the set list, the once tentative audience rumbling out the lyrics to I’m a Kid with gusto, stomping along to the beat.
“We’re gonna play you some Christmas songs now, get you lot in the festive spirit”, proclaimed Alex to the cheering crowd, after the band had played through their final tracks, the understated beauty of Day by Day, led deftly by Diva Jeffrey, and the sprawling soundscape of Derealisation.
At this point Diva revealed a battered folder of lyric sheets, and began to disperse them into the chattering audience.
Double sided with the words to Lennon and Ono’s Happy Xmas (War is Over) on one side and Fairytale of New York by The Pogues on the other, the crowd grew giddy.
Clumsily, but with absolute passion, the audience powered through the tracks, instinctively filling in the backing vocals when required, much to the band’s bemusement.
In an all too predictable situation however, Fairytale of New York proved to be somewhat challenging.
Bounding through the song with relish, the audience soon began to belt out the opening lines of verse two. Diva’s eyes, following along via her own lyric sheet, suddenly flickered with recognition and widened in horror as she released too late what came next. She flinched back from the keyboard and grimaced as the crowd, with complete conviction, proudly bellowed out the controversial slur.
Her hair practically stood on end in terror.
Despite this, the band made it through the song, and Jadu Heart concluded a pleasant, overwhelmingly intimate set with a merry, mostly heartwarming sing-along, leaving the audience with one last request:
“We’ll be at the pub later, come buy us a pint”