Florence + The Machine in Zurich, 2015live-photos.de

I reckon transcendental experiences are a pretty rare occurrence in Newport train station. But lugging my bag across the platform in the tentative April sunshine, returning home to stress, deadlines and difficult conversations, an acoustic version of 'Heartlines' by Florence Welch made the dreary world around me seem enchanting.

Keep it up/ I know you can” - having known the song for years, this was the first time I had registered that line. It stopped me in my tracks. As if the most reassuring thing I had heard in months had been yelled from the rooftops somewhere only when I really needed it.

A barely visible glittery figure floated about the stage, and I bathed in her light

Florence + the Machine was the first gig I ever went to – my mum and I sat miles from the stage at the O2, surrounded by bored couples and uninterested tourists. But my nine-year-old self sang and danced along to the best of my ability. A barely visible glittery figure floated about the stage, and I bathed in her light.

I tried to make my mum play the album (Ceremonials) again in the car on the way home. A hiatus followed, until I heard her new album (High as Hope) last summer, in her words ‘a love letter to south London’ in which she reflects on her turbulent teenage years.

I grew up in an area nearby, and ‘South London Forever’ perfectly captures the bittersweet, complex and sometimes uncomfortable nostalgia I feel for the tense, grey streets that feel like everything the first time you’re stumbling down them in a gaggle of mates clinging to a can of cheap cider: “With the art students and the boys in bands/...holding hands with someone that I just met/ I thought it doesn’t get better than this." 

Welch live in Portland, 2018@florence

As we devastate the planet, she provides escapism in hymns to nature – hurling her listener down a fairy-tale rabbit-hole of starry forests, raging seas and wild beasts. Her witch-like, anachronistic persona is an apt one to cry out for our future: “And what if one day there is no such thing as snow”, out of the blue and left hauntingly unanswered, startles you into paying attention.

Amidst 21st century discourse of self-improvement and the ‘best self’, Welch’s music is a wave of relief. The coalescence of her awe-inspiring vocal power and the honesty of her lyrics links the heavens to earth in Kate Bush-esque fashion: a vision of a goddess with the same fallibilities and failings as the rest of us.

In 'Grace'she reflects on her strained relationship with her sister, opening with the poignant “Sorry I ruined your birthday, and floating melodically and melancholically into the confession you were the one I treated the worst / only because you loved me the most”. It is rare for an artist to have the courage to paint themselves in a negative light, to expose their weaknesses and ugliness-es to the world.


Mountain View

…& Me: Vampire Weekend

Welch does this in ‘Falling’, admitting: “I’ve fallen from grace/fallen out of taxis/and I’ve fallen on my face”. In ‘All This’ and Heaven Too’, she anthems the familiar frustration of being unable to write: “But with all my education, I can’t seem to command itAnd all my stumbling phrases never amounted to anything”. Since I rediscovered my love for Welch, this song resounds with me the most – but more importantly highlights her ability to both vulnerable and incredibly comforting, and thereby foster a sense of authentic intimacy between her and her audience.

Welch has described her songs as ‘prophetic’ and my attachment to her music is strangely enhanced by the eeriness of having been listening, aged eleven, to songs that would make perfect sense to me eight years later. An ostensibly celestial being with her feet on solid ground, Welch’s magic lies in her ability to make the everyday, awkward chaos of living (and even the grainy steps of Newport station) seem mystically beautiful.

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