Photographs and Review by John Bentley

Rachel Zeffira, Deaf Institute, Manchester 10-4-13

Rachel Zeffira is one half of Cat’s Eyes, the other half being Faris Badwan of The Horrors. The duo released the ‘Cat’s Eyes’ album, generally considered to be one of the most interesting and best of 2011. However, now she is also a successful solo artist, having released her debut album, ‘The Deserters’, in December of last year. An awkward time to release a record, as this one came too late to be considered for albums of the year. It’s a beautiful, tranquil and melancholy album, that is spending a lot of time on my CD player. So I am very eager to hot-foot it up to Manchester to catch one of Rachel Zeffira’s few current gigs.

Rachel Zeffira, Deaf Institute, Manchester 10-4-13

The small Deaf Institute stage is crammed full of equipment, but it’s not guitars on stands and Marshall stacks. To the rear is a conventional drum kit and chairs for musicians. However, in the centre is a large vibraphone, to the left an electric piano and to the right an organ keyboard. And these are only the instruments for one person – the talented multi-instrumentalist Rachel Zeffira. After the gig, another journalist and I get to talk to her and discover that, the previous evening, she played at the Union Chapel in London with a much bigger band, which included two drummers, violin, brass, clarinet, harp and flutes. There are now some appetising clips of this on You Tube and I can only say that I would really like to have been there. It looks like she also got to play the chapel’s pipe organ at that gig.

Rachel Zeffira, Deaf Institute, Manchester 10-4-13

Tonight is inevitably a stripped down and shorter version of the Union Chapel gig, with accompaniment from just one drummer, a cellist, a woodwind player and two backing singers. The full band just wouldn’t fit on the stage at Manchester, she tells us later. Often artists save the best songs till last, but the band start the gig tonight with the superb title track from the album, ‘The Deserters’, with Zeffira at the piano keyboard. The video from the Union Chapel shows this song played on a concert grand piano, with an elaborate orchestral introduction, but even in its simpler form tonight, it is still a beautiful piece of music. “One day we’ll meet again, one day we’ll speak like we did back then, old friend, you’re still my old friend”’. She has a breathy, ethereal, lovelorn voice, which is perfect for delivering her often sad songs, which seem to be a lot about loss and the passing of time and relationships. She is, by the way, a classically trained opera singer.

Rachel Zeffira, Deaf Institute, Manchester 10-4-13

The setlist includes all the tracks, bar one, from her album, but (to use the memorable words of Eric Morecambe) ‘not necessarily in the right order’. We don’t get ‘Goodbye Divine’ tonight, and I think that’s because a pipe organ is her preferred mode delivery for this one (as at the Union Chapel). Maybe because this is a relatively quiet acoustic gig, the audience is reverently silent, and Zeffira jokes that it is rather like being back in the world of classical music from where she started. I think she would prefer we made more noise as between songs she clambers, in silence, around the equipment on the tightly packed stage.

Rachel Zeffira, Deaf Institute, Manchester 10-4-13

For ‘Sylia’, Zeffira moves to the vibraphone. I’ve not seen anyone sing, while standing and playing this instrument and it’s an interesting sight. A surprise is a newly worked-up and imaginative interpretation of the Beatles’ ‘Because’, again on the vibraphone, with delicate backing vocals from the two female singers. This is followed by another cover song, My Bloody Valentine’s ‘To Here Knows Where’. However, it couldn’t be further from the cacophony of MBV’s original. It uses gentle piano and a flute is played by one of the singers. The arrangement works very well and I’ve read that this adaptation acted as a template for the sound we hear on the album.

Rachel Zeffira, Deaf Institute, Manchester 10-4-13

The show seems to be over too quickly (it lasted something under an hour) and Zeffira says goodnight and leaves the stage after ‘Star’. However, the band remain stock still on stage. There is a strange silence and the audience are not sure what is happening – has she just popped out to the lady’s room? She returns after a minute or so, grinning and slightly embarrassed. “I thought the band were coming with me”, she says with disarming charm. She finishes with a version of the Cat’s Eyes song ‘Over You’ and then everyone leaves the stage and it really is over. It’s been a magical, though somewhat strange, evening, where the world of classical music seems to have edged into the realm of popular music. However, Rachel Zeffira is clearly a breath of fresh air in the overcrowded sphere of singer-songwriters.

Rachel Zeffira, Deaf Institute, Manchester 10-4-13

It will be interesting to see what this talented artist will do next. From the evidence of tonight’s show, her solo album and her work with Cat’s Eyes, she is a good song writer, can easily span a range of styles and is a skilled musical arranger and interpreter. She tells us afterwards that she has been working on a new Cat’s Eyes album with Faris Badwan and that this will be out shortly. She’s also been doing film soundtracks and has founded a new record label (RAF), but she won’t let-on who will be on it. She says she takes life as it comes and doesn’t plan ahead. She can’t guess what the future holds, but there will likely be another solo album in due course. When I mention that the new album has had a really good reception, she seems obviously pleased, but says she doesn’t read reviews.

Rachel Zeffira, Deaf Institute, Manchester 10-4-13

Rachel Zeffira’s not that keen on touring either, but says she will be playing the Glastonbury, Green Man and Latitude festivals this year. She seems to prefer doing a few large concerts rather than lots of small gigs. She has fond memories of the big shows she played at the Vatican (with Faris Badwan) and on London’s South Bank. Cat’s Eyes may do a small number of gigs to promote the forthcoming album.

OSC, The Deaf Institute, Manchester 10-4-13

Support tonight is from a young band of shoegaze-style noiseniks, OSC, playing guitars and synthy things. The two males and two females band seem pretty shy and don’t say anything, but provide an absorbing electronic ambient drone in the build-up to Rachel Zeffira’s appearance.

Rachel Zeffira Setlist: The Deserters; Front Door; Break the Spell; Silver City Days; Letters from Tokyo (Sayonara); Here On In; Waiting for Sylvia; Because; To Here Knows Where; Star. Encore: Over You.

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