Gig review: LYR at Howard Assembly Room, Leeds

Stood onstage in Opera North’s impressively revamped Howard Assembly Room, Poet Laureate Simon Armitage is losing track of days.

LYR with guest soprano Lorna James at Howard Assembly Room. Picture: Opera North

“Land Yacht Regatta is our Sunday name,” he says introducing his musical collaboration with singer-songwriter Richard Walters and producer and multi-instrumentalist Patrick Pearson. “But it’s Tuesday so feel free to abbreviate.”

As audience members are quick to point out, it’s actually a Monday evening in Leeds, but it provides a moment of levity in between the band’s often dark, intense concoction of poetry, vocal melodies and post-rock soundscapes.

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Augmented by Matt Taylor on bass and Mike Monaghan on drums, they perform most of their debut album Call In The Crash Team – one of the musical highlights of last year – starting with the bleakly poignant 33 1/3, a song about the death of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis.

In Zodiac T-Shirt youthful summer love tilts into an autumnal downpour of romantic disappointment; Great Coat finds its protagonist reminiscing as he rummages through the pockets before being consumed by sadness: “It’s a great coat, all right/Now that you’re gone/Just never ask me to put it on”.

Urban Myth #91 channels a heavier motorik groove. As it draws to a close Armitage deadpans: “That’s the last Ed Sheeran cover we’re doing tonight.”

Opera North soprano Lorna James joins them for two songs – the stirring Cascade Theory, with its Sigur Ros-like guitars and insistence that “one thing follows another”, and the startlingly beautiful Adam’s Apple, in which Armitage urges “let go”.

Winter Solstice favours Cocteau Twins-style atmospherics and effects pedals and borrows the line “Desire as a sylph-figured creature who changes her mind” from Prefab Sprout.

They close with the unnerving pandemic ode Lockdown that references Derbyshire’s first “social distancers” Emmott Syddall and Rowland Torre, “star-crossed lovers on either side of the quarantine line” during 17th century plague times. Armitage’s haunting refrain “The journey a ponderous one at times/Long and slow but necessarily so” serves as a grim reminder of all that we’ve been through in the past year and a half.

LYR’s second album, due next year, is quite something to look forward to.

Honourable mention should also be made of the support act, Anew Day, which pairs singer-songwriter David Henshaw, formerly of Leeds band Dancing Years, and pianist Simeon Walker. A mixture of bucolic folk-pop and late night melancholy, it sounds like a cross between Johnny Flynn and The Blue Nile and deserves a wider audience.