LIVE: Holding Absence @ Portland House, Cardiff

By Yasmin Brown

It starts with a crackle. The kind you hear when you first gently place the needle down on a record, waiting for the music to kick in. Shots of Cardiff’s Portland House come into view, and already the scene is perfectly set for what has always felt like a modern album meant for older times. 

The album in question, of course, is Holding Absence’s ‘The Greatest Mistake of My Life’, and it’s the first time since its release back in April that the band have been able to play all of these songs live together. We say ‘live’, but as with most performances over the past 18 months, HA are playing to cameras, rather than a crowd. To viewers at home, it’s impossible not to feel a little cheated out of the real experience, but at the same time, still lucky enough to simply exist at the same time as this band.

If you have been blessed enough to ever catch Holding Absence live (and in colour) before, you’ll know just how much of an event their shows really are; how crowd and band become one almost as soon as the lights go down, and how important the reverberation of energy is for everyone in the room. Of course, we lose the crowd from that equation tonight, and the members of Holding Absence (plus the welcome addition of Caitlin Woodland, Arwel Brown, and Toby Evans) have to rely on each other to ensure the energy is maintained throughout. 

It’s easy to say that they succeeded in this, as front man Lucas Woodland faces inwards rather than towards the cameras which only creates a more unified atmosphere as they forget everything other than the music and each other for the 45 minutes that follow. On record, ‘TGMOML’ is an emotional piece of art. When played live, there are simply no words for where you’ll find yourself transported to, and the emotions that will bubble up inside until you burst. 

This is sensation that’s mirrored in the band members, too, as – supported by his sister – Woodland belts out every note as though his life depends on it. Similarly, it’s a wonder that drummer Ash Green doesn’t seriously injure himself with how passionately he hits his drums, and guitarist Scott Carey thrashes his guitar as if it’s his last day on earth. Perhaps Carey’s real shining moment, however, comes during ‘nomoreroses’, when an unexpectedly inhuman roar comes from his throat as the song reaches its heaviest moments, bringing to light that he’s not only an incredible guitarist, but that moving forwards his vocals might also play a significant role in HA’s music. 

Between each song, Woodland stops for a moment to introduce the next (as if we don’t know the track list by heart already…), but it’s not until we reach ‘Die Alone (In Your Lover’s Arms)’ that we’re formally introduced to tonight’s guests, Brown, Evans, and Caitlin Woodland. It’s here they’re given a real opportunity to showcase their talents, as Caitlin tackles the duet with her brother with ease, and Brown’s keyboard skills drive the heartfelt performance through to its gentle close.

Before the performance draws to a close, there’s a short period of disappointment as Woodland claims ‘Mourning Song’ will be the last song of the night. While no amount of time with Holding Absence could ever be enough, it also spikes a fear that we won’t be treated to a performance of ‘The Greatest Mistake of My Life’, which otherwise promises to be the most vulnerable of the evening, and the perfect way to close out the album. Our fear is short-lived, however, as the black screen comes back to life with Woodland and Brown at a piano, proving that our suspicions were correct – this already beautiful cover is even more stunning live.

As the crackling returns, we’re left with a warmth in our hearts and an unwavering excitement for what is hopefully to come on the band’s tour later this year. If this is just a taster, we can’t begin to imagine what Holding Absence have saved up for us next. Whatever it is, though, we cannot wait.