LIVE: Tellison @ St. Pancras Old Church, London

By Rob Barbour

A few minutes’ walk from Kings Cross St. Pancras station, there stands a small church on a small hill. On a Friday night as the faithful file in through its narrow doorway they’re handed a home-printed hymn sheet featuring the lyrics of the songs to be sung this evening. They’re then given the opportunity to buy a slice of homemade cake before continuing into the main hall which is decorated with fairy lights and lightly buzzes with a sense of anticipation. The pews are full and the congregation crowds down each side of the room, positions being hustled for but voices kept low.

An evening sermon? A premature Christmas service, perhaps? No. It’s the launch show for ‘Hope Fading Nightly’, the third album from “Sad Indie Rock” merchants Tellison. It’s an ironic title for a band who demonstrate increasing depth and nuance with each release, regardless of their professed self-image.

There are obvious and poetic parallels between live music and religious ceremonies and it’s interesting to us how, when a show is hosted in a church, the social mores of the latter win out over the visceral and instinctive behaviours so often inspired by the former. As Tellison take the ‘stage’, there’s polite applause which quickly dies down and is replaced by the usual sombre, heavy silence facilitated by high-ceilinged worship spaces such as this. It’s a silence made all the more noticeable, but appropriate, by frontman Stephen Davidson’s lovably uncomfortable presence – a great singer, guitarist and songwriter, he somehow manages to find a way to appear almost apologetic for his, and his band’s, very existence.

Tonight is primarily a showcase for songs from ‘Hope Fading Nightly’, all of which sound even more vital than on record. The album’s relative lack of polish compared to predecessor ‘The Wages of Fear’ translates far better live than many of the tracks on that earlier album, a fact which can’t have escaped the band’s notice as David eschews the electric backline and three quarters of his band for a stripped-back acoustic rendition of its opener ‘Get On’, re-imagined as a duet with support act Katie Malco.

Even the sound mix is politely refined, to the extent that a roomful of people dying to sing their hearts out at the top of their lungs can’t help but hold themselves back – with a few notable exceptions – and sing along in a manner reminiscent of a school assembly hymn recital. Tonight really doesn’t feel like a gig, more like a gathering of a top secret youth club; it’s oddly magical though. It’s uplifting but muted; joyful yet ever-so-slightly awkward. Just like Tellison, in fact.