Review and Photography by John Bentley

North London indie trio Girl Ray are still in the early stages of their career and in fact they were all just 19 when they recorded their debut album, ‘Earl Grey’. Amazingly for such a young band Girl Ray have already developed their own distinctive sound, distilled from a melting pot of very diverse influences and they’ve gained a lot of attention and radio play for their well-crafted songs and sincere live performances.

Girl Ray at Hebden Bridge Trades Club

Supporting act Fake Laugh (aka Kamran Khan) is solo tonight, but he does also work with a band. Armed with a Fender guitar and a laptop Khan delivers a well received set of thoughtful melodic pop. He has an excellent voice that reaches some pretty high notes and his instrumental backing ranges from just his guitar to a whole range of instruments generated from the laptop. He finishes on a song called ‘Honesty’ which is the heaviest thing in the set, with drum, bass, synth and second guitar backing tracks. Good as it sounds I’m sure it would be far more satisfying watching him live with his band rather than tweaking the laptop.

Fake Laugh aka Kamran Khan Trades Club Hebden Bridge

Girl Ray are singer / guitarist Poppy Hankin, bass player Sophie Moss and drummer Iris McConnell. On stage tonight they are a quartet, with long-term musical associate Mike O’Malley filling out the sound with guitar and keyboards. Their social media page describes Girl Ray as ‘Estrogen pop’, with influences including Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Pixies, Pavement, Cate Le Bon, Hefner and The Beatles. The quirky Gorky’s influence is very apparent in the singing and playing, for example in one of their ‘big’ numbers, ‘Stupid Things’. Indeed Euros Childs of Gorky’s has declared he is a fan of the trio.

The band seem quite shy and stiff at first, but as time goes by they noticeably loosen-up and are clearly having fun. The Trades Club is a very relaxed and informal venue and during the evening Poppy repeatedly declares the band’s liking for the venue. What comes over live more than on record is the musical versatility of Girl Ray. Poppy has a distinct rhythm guitar style, but can quickly switch into a strident solo guitar mode and Sophie has a really commanding bass sound. It’s difficult to hear the song words as Poppy has a rather quiet wispy way of singing, but occasionally her voice deepens and sounds a bit like Nico.

Girl Ray at Hebden Bridge Trades Club

Girl Ray at Hebden Bridge Trades Club

Maybe Girl Ray have an extensive record collection which they study, because they certainly seem to be able to dip into diverse genres of music. They are very ‘indie’, but they can be funky or delve into reggae-ish or dance-tinged styles and they seem to be able to switch mid-song. Mid-set the band are joined on stage by Kamran Khan and another guy (I didn’t catch his name) and they really seem to get into a groove and, as well as delighting the audience, they seem to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.

The setlist comes from their one album plus single releases. Finishing on ‘Trouble’ (the band’s first single recorded when they were just 16), Poppy thanks the audience and the band depart the stage. Girl Ray have a very loyal following and there follows some determined shouting to get them back for more. They do return, slightly puzzled, with Poppy saying that they don’t normally do encores and they haven’t rehearsed any more material. However, acknowledging that we want an encore they perform ‘I’ll Make This Fun’.

Girl Ray at Hebden Bridge Trades Club

Girl Ray at Hebden Bridge Trades Club

Setlist: Preacher; Monday Tuesday; Just Like That; The Way We Came Back; Where Am I Now; Stupid Things; Like the Stars; By The Lake; Don’t Go Back At Ten; A Few Months; Rock Out 2; Waiting Ages; Ghosty; Trouble. Encore: I’ll Make This Fun.

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