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Anna Calvi

Drawing influences ranging from PJ HARVEY, SIOUXSIE, PATTI SMITH, NICK CAVE and the cinematic OST work of DAVID LYNCH, the smoky-voxed singer-songwriter/electric-guitarist ANNA CALVI (born 24th September 1980, Twickenham) arrived on the scene a bit late (2011), compared to her a pop-rock counterparts. Despite approaching the tender age of thirty, Domino Records – through boss Lawrence Bell – had taken her under their mighty albatross-ic indie wing when The CORAL’s Bill Ryder-Jones recommended the lilting London lass after witnessing a gig in Manchester.
Where she’d been since graduating in 2003 with a Bachelor of Arts honours degree at the University of Southampton was unclear, but in her mid-twenties, an emotionally-spurred Anna was now ready to explore the range of her lost-long larynx. From an early age, she’d mastered violin, but opted to take up the guitar on listening to JIMI HENDRIX and DJANGO REINHARDT; her other tastes as she grew up were CAPTAIN BEEFHEART, Maria Callas, NINA SIMONE and Debussy. Surfacing from her “rehearsal” room in the mid-00s, there was a bit of a false start when a download-only single (`New York’) by her inaugural outfit Cheap Hotel, failed to generate much interest. A subsequent parley with drummer Daniel Maiden-Wood and fellow multi-instrumentalist Mally Harpaz led to early gigs, which, in turn, led to avant-garde maestro BRIAN ENO spouting her worth on a BBC6 radio interview; depicting her as “the biggest thing since PATTI SMITH”.
2009 seemed to be the turning point for Anna as 8-track, YouTube “Attic Sessions” revealed her covering the works of LEONARD COHEN (`Joan Of Arc’), DAVID BOWIE (`Sound & Vision’), ELVIS PRESLEY (`Surrender’) and TV ON THE RADIO (`Wolf Like Me’). A support slot to JOHNNY FLYNN on tour and a guest guitar spot on his set, “Been Listening”, took her to the door of the aforementioned Domino, while her confidence was high after opening for indie-rock outfits INTERPOL and ARCTIC MONKEYS; the accolade of then supporting NICK CAVE’s Grinderman, in October 2010, set her up for an unlikely cover of Wayne Shanklin’s `Jezebel’, a song performed in the 50s by her idol, French legend Edith Piaf.
Co-produced at the Black Box studios in the Anjou region of France with PJ HARVEY cohort Rob Ellis, and featuring ENO on a pair of tracks, her self-titled debut album, ANNA CALVI (2011) {*9}, was finally unleashed to an unsuspecting Euro audience. On the strength of mighty reviews by the NME and others, the record breeched the Top 40. A “Blue Velvet”-meets-Spector-esque “Wall of Sound”, encompassing brittle and brooding blues, her alt-rock commercial appeal might yet have propelled her into the forefront had it not been for a certain FLORENCE + The Machine.
Still, the sinister twanging of Anna’s “geetar” and her seductive shimmering spawned a tapestry of literate delights, from the PJ HARVEY-ish `No More Words’, `Blackout’, the SIOUXSIE-esque `Desire’ and `Suzanne & I’. Just about everything from this made-for-soundtrack set was exquisite, even the haunting “Twin Peaks”-ish instrumental of opening salvo, `Rider To The Sea’, captivating and mysterious. A subsequent nomination for a Mercury Prize and Best Breakthrough Act at the Brits of 2012, kept her profile looming (as did a cameo on NOAH AND THE WHALE’s “Heart Of Nowhere”), while a second album was up for discussion in the autumn of 2013.
ONE BREATH {*8} was equally resounding and forthright in its bewitching and hypnotic capacity to both threaten and excite her audience. Picked out as a single, `Eliza’, might well’ve done with a bit more exposure from an X-Factor-centric media, but that probably mattered little to the artistry of CALVI, who’d now roped-in another Top 40 album. Challenging and confrontational with a visceral voice from the cavernous heavens above (phew!), she uncoiled her reverb-rendered blasts of iciclewerks on rewarding tracks such as `Suddenly’, `Cry’ and the minimalist chamber-pop of `Bleed Into Me’. Encore!!!
Hot on the heels of a self-penned rock opera (`The Sandman’), which premiered in 2017 at the Ruhrfestspiele Festival, in Germany, ANNA CALVI unveiled her long-awaited Top 30 third set, HUNTER (2018) {*8}. Produced by Nick Launey and featuring Bad Seed Martyn Casey (ex-TRIFFIDS) and Adrian Utley (PORTISHEAD), the set examined the widening avenues within gender roles and sexuality (e.g. `Alpha’, `As A Man’ and the title track); her lyrical abandon was matched at times by dizzying rhythms that were once liberated by her idols. Here, Anna’s commercial charm was her CREATURES-like gothic growls on several cuts, though the main attractions were, for many, `Don’t Beat The Girl Out Of The Boy’ and the theatrical `Chain’.
Following in the tried-and-tested TV soundtrack footsteps of hero NICK CAVE in her breathless and spooky `You’re Not God’ theme to cult series, Peaky Blinders (she also covered FKA Twigs’ `Papi Pacify’), one was expecting much more than a re-imagined mini-set take of her previous effort. HUNTED (2020) {*6} was Twin Peaks with stilettos; dragging up the almost forgotten but well-heeled JULEE CRUISE for inspiration. To help her along the path, Anna employed the services of fellow fringe stars JULIA HOLTER (`Swimming Pool’), CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG (`Eden’), COURTNET BARNETT (`Don’t Beat The Girl Out Of The Boy’) and IDLES’ Joe Talbot (`Wish’).
© MC Strong/MCS Oct2013-Mar2020

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