Welcome to Pin Drop Central


Posted by in May's Magazine

There are some brilliant live recordings of Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers singing through the noisy and sometimes febrile atmosphere of the Palomino Club in Hollywood in the 1960s. Throughout the recordings, you can hear people talking, shouting and laughing and the sound of glasses breaking on the floor. Despite the cacophony, the band perseveres and Parsons and Chris Hillman blow out some of the sweetest harmonies you’ll ever hear. As each song draws to a close, the audience suddenly remember why they’re there and a distinctly lacklustre round of applause can be heard in the background. (For more of the same listen to The Velvet Underground Live at Max’s Kansas City, particularly the guy whining “can I have a double pernod?” – Ed).

Now, I wouldn’t for one second compare the back room of the Carriers Quarters to the Palomino or for that matter, compare respective audiences, but at most of the small gigs that I’ve been to in the Carriers, the same rules apply – the band plays and the audience carry on talking, drinking and falling over. However, on the night I went to see Sanna in the CQ, something strange happened. Almost as soon as the first notes of the first song began to drift into the air, the talking stopped and underneath the haunting intro to the night’s opener, Transformation you could have heard a pin drop.  On that night’s evidence, to say that Sanna’s sound is captivating is like saying the ocean’s blue – yes, it’s a statement of fact but there’s something much deeper going on.

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Sanna are essentially a three-piece outfit who, every now and again, bring on board a guest performer; the night in question saw Graham Clark on lead vocals, Martin O’Donnell on guitar/vocals and Sylvia Bell on vocals, cello and clarinet (amongst other things) joined by Cammy Newell as guest violinist.

Try as I might, I really can’t begin to tell you ‘how’ Sanna sound – whenever you’re tasked with reviewing a band, the last thing you want to do is start comparing them to anyone else but it’s a trap that most reviews fall into. Looking at my notes in the cold light of day I realised that I had attempted to describe their sound as the night unfolded and had scribbled things like ‘ethereal pop’; ‘echo melodic’; and ‘a hypnotic road trip into the dark’. None of these descriptions really nail it but listening to the beautiful Sailor Farmer, they’re getting close.

O’Donnell’s dream-like guitar intro opens the door for Clark’s vocals which come at you like an anaesthetist gently and reassuringly waking you from a deep sleep. When Bell’s cello drifts in the sound is so pure it’s as if there’s velvet being pulled across the strings. Like all classic pop songs, it lasts less than three minutes in the playing but ten seconds in and the silence I mentioned above seemed to get even quieter. I swear when you hear it you won’t be able to get it out of your head.

Remember 6 is another short, beautiful prayer and if there’s one petty criticism of Dinnae Ken it’s that the gruff title belies another two and a half minutes of haunting melodies which swirl around the room and are gone too soon.

There is so much more to say and only the draconian restrictions of an imposed word count are preventing me from running through the entire set but it’s safe to say that over the course of the night, Sanna held a packed back room in the palm of their hands. Beautiful guitar and string arrangements, nailed on vocals and harmonies, and lyrics which veer from tender to funny all combined to make inch perfect pop songs.

Of course, all of that is only in my humble opinion and if this review makes it sound as though Sanna take themselves ever so seriously, nothing could be further from the truth. They have a brilliant sense of humour which was obvious from the chat between each song which only added to the hold they had over the audience.

Do go and see them but don’t laugh too loudly at their self-deprecating banter – you may not hear that pin drop. ν

Info: You can check out the band on Facebook or at Sanna.org.uk

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