Live Review: Blanco White @ The Zoo

23 February 2024 | 3:36 pm | Liv Dunford

“Have you got bin chickens up here as well? That’s so mean you guys call them that, they’re great!”

Blanco White

Blanco White (Source: Supplied)

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“The melody usually comes first,” Josh tells me after the show, smiling wide and breathless in the dark. “It’s easier to get the phrasing of the lyrics right if the music is already there for you to work with.” As far as lyricists go, Josh Edwards – better known, of course, under the alluring moniker of Blanco White – is one of the few who possess an almost uncanny ability to capture the human experience with such a peculiar specificity that any one listener could be persuaded into believing. Believing that is, that they themselves have undergone the exact journey of otherworldly self-reflection White illustrates in his music. 

“I also really want to go skydiving.” Considering he’s just finished the last leg of his first-ever Australian tour, the burning desire to… well, it’s not exactly relaxing. To let off some steam, instead, is more than understandable. Brook St’s own Jason Heslop made a cheeky quip about booking a date, and it was then I decided it was about time to secretly sneak away to the bar before I agreed to an impromptu day in the clouds instead of doing what I should be and writing this very review. That’s the thing about these guys: they make you genuinely want to jump out of a plane (this is, of course, a compliment intended in the highest form) because once you listen to their music, you feel as if the sky is not the limit, but merely the baseline. 

But let’s wind back the clock for a moment to when Brook St, the folk brainchild of Hannah and Jason Heslop, took to the stage with a delighted “Thanks for coming out early; it would be super awkward if you weren’t here!” Not twenty seconds in the spotlight, they had everyone giggling into their drinks, helplessly charmed by their authenticity and, later, their mellifluous harmonies. Gearing up for the March tour of their latest EP, let’s build a house, the duo played a range of stripped-back melodies, including house’s popular single, Dreaming Of. 

When Blanco White ultimately surfaced from the shadows, opting to catapult his show into the realm of magic from the get-go with a song like Colder Heavens was nothing short of a genius move in the game that is setlist chess. With a haunting violin progression courtesy of Charlie Schnurr, known professionally as Lottie Gabriel, it is the song guaranteed to captivate a room instantaneously. And I’m not just saying that because it’s my favourite.

“We’re going to try an old song now,” White said while fiddling with the machine heads on his guitar. “This is called Nocturne, and it takes a little minute to tune. It’s inspired by the night in Wales. And I often think when writing, what the time of day is for the song.” True to its name, Nocturne is a melancholic conflation of cosmic melodies and bewitching lyrics. In other words, it is a song best listened to at three in the morning under the light of the moon. 

“This next one is the first song I wrote in Spanish” was how White introduced Mano a Mano, the last track from his 2020 album On The Other Side. “It’s inspired by the place where it’s written in Tarifa. Has anyone been?” Only one person up the front had. The name, however, sounded a familiar bell for the rest of us who had listened to his recent album released back in 2023 titled… you guessed it, Tarifa.  

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He laughed. “It’s a long way, so I’d be surprised, but it’s an amazing place. It’s the very southern tip of Spain, and Africa is only five miles away across the straits. You’ve got the Atlantic on one side, the Mediterranean on the other and two continents meet. It’s a magical place, and the light is really beautiful.” He went to start the song before thinking of something. “The light here in Australia as well is unbelievable,” he added. “We’ve had a lovely few days wandering around and exploring… and it makes a difference not being in the UK in February.” Considering it’s three degrees over there right now, you can’t blame them for enjoying the heat.  

In what turned out to be an automatic highlight of the night, the band then performed an ethereal rendition of Nick Cave’s We No Who U R. “Five years ago, we did a live recording of this, and we’ve been dusting it off for this tour and have really enjoyed playing it. I really love the lyrics in this one.” Heads bobbed around the room, nodding vigorously. It’s Nick Cave, after all; who wouldn’t love the lyrics? 

When explaining the significance behind We Had A Place In That Garden, White reflected on the writing process. “It’s a song that came together weirdly quickly, and that never happens with me. Usually, it’s much slower, and it just kind of happened in a day or two, and the lyrics as well… it felt like I was discovering the song. I think it’s quite rare that that happens, and for this reason, it means a lot to me, and it’s retained a bit of mystery. It feels fresh still. It imagines being reunited with someone at the very end of your life that you lost along the way and reliving the memories together.” 

Before playing fan favourite Olalla, complete with a tasty solo by guitarist Cam Potts, better known as Superego, White tasked us with giving him some ideas for his day off. “We’d love some recommendations for tomorrow. Apparently, there’s a fake beach… that sounds kind of weird? Is that a thumbs-up for the beach? Or…” He was met with a mass of thumbs-downs. A public pool with at least forty-five children swimming at any time after drinking Slurpees? You do the math.  

White understood immediately. “Should we just go to the real beach then?” This time, the reception was far more positive. “Ah, we’re better informed now… it’s been amazing being here in Australia. The trees here are amazing we’ve been obsessing over them, and all the little birds – have you got bin chickens up here as well? That’s so mean you guys call them that, they’re great!” Spoken with the unwavering confidence of someone who’s never known the fear of having fish and chips swooped out of your unassuming hands by the harbingers of death. 

“Thank you so much for coming; we’re sad to have to leave again for the cold north.” White closed the show with The Lily, an older song from his 2016 EP The Wind Rose, and a song that allowed him to engage in an enthralling solo with Gabriel as they melded violin and guitar together.

“This is our last night of the tour, so we’re getting battered later, basically,” White laughed after they’d finished. 

I guess that means skydiving is out, then.