The last time Katie Harkin embarked on a tour, it was with Cumbrian falsetto extraordinaires Wild Beasts, as an auxillary keyboardist. Although it may have been have been a strange experience to see Harkin on the side of the stage, it seems like it was an experiment that paid positive dividends. For this year, Harkin’s band Sky Larkin have roared back with one of the year’s best albums in Motto.
Not that producing great albums is any rarity for Sky Larkin – their previous records The Golden Spike and Kaleide were great examples of powerful guitar pop – but Motto has a focus and energy that’s quite staggering to behold. Although the new record was recorded with the help of Nile Marr and Sam Pryor, for their new range of live shows, the band have resorted back to a trio: Harkin and drummer Nestor Matthews being joined by bassist Michael Matthews (no relation, although as Harkin points out onstage, “who’d believe that?” – they do look remarkably similar).
Although the bassist is a new addition, it’s remarkable how quickly the new trio have settled into playing together – they make for quite the spectacle onstage, with Katie being the reserved if enthusiastic leader, Nestor bashing his drums with his sweatband becoming ever more soaked, and Michael bouncing up and down on his toes. Not to mention the almighty racket the trio make – as soon as old favourite Still Windmills kicks off the set, it’s astonishing to note just how noisy three people and their instruments can be.
The new material is weaved seamlessly into their set, with Loom already sounding like a future classic – loud, insanely catchy and, with lyrics regarding a bereavement, possessing a surprisingly affecting poignancy. Even better is the terrific Newsworthy which canters out of the tracks at 100mph and never lets up – Harkin’s cry of “the cacophony’s coming for me” sounding as celebratory as it does portentous.
Yet in the live setting, some of the more overlooked album tracks come alive. On Motto, one of the few tracks that seems to meander a bit is Frozen Summer, but on stage it serves as a welcome, languid break from the frenzied pogoing. Between songs, Harkin makes for a confident and likeable presence, revealing that the band’s new album was written in Attercliffe (one of the less salubrious areas of Sheffield), singing the praises of the city and playing the guitar with such force that she manages to snap two guitar strings during Brave Dodo – and, rather impressively, stops the song in mid-flow, swaps guitars, and picks up from exactly where she left off.
With an hour-long set-list of just 12 songs, it would be easy to moan about any omissions – early favourite Pica, or Motto’s standout song Italics for example – although an unexpected cover version of X-Ray Spex‘s The Day The World Turned Day-Glo was a nice surprise, and sounded almost like a Sky Larkin original. Yet as they tear through a blistering version of Motto to end the set, it’s just impossible not to think that this is a band who should be far more famous than they actually are.