Proms at Sage Gateshead: Self Esteem and the Royal Northern Sinfonia

Divorce – Felix Mackenzie-Barrow (guitar/vocals), Tiger Cohen-Towell (bass/vocals), Adam Peter Smith (guitar), Kasper Sandstrom (drums)

Self Esteem (with backing vocalists: Seraphina D’Arby, Levi Heaton, Sophie Galpin and Marged Sion)

Royal Northern Sinfonia
Robert Ames


Reviewed by: Chris Caspell

Reviewed: 21 July, 2023
Venue: Sage Gateshead, Sage One

The BBC Proms at Sage Gateshead delivered an unforgettable opening concert, showcasing a diverse and captivating line-up that left the audience in awe. An electrifying opening act – the indie band “Divorce”, followed by the exceptional talents of Rebecca Lucy Taylor, better known by her stage name, Self Esteem, along with the Royal Northern Sinfonia.

Formed in 2019, “Divorce – a four-piece group from Nottingham – has quickly risen to prominence, captivating audiences with their unique musical sound.

Taking to the stage with an infectious energy that immediately drew the audience in, their seamless performance was a testament to their chemistry as a band. Tight-knit musicianship and genuine camaraderie stood out tonight with Tiger Cohen-Towell (bass/vocals) and Felix Mackenzie-Barrow (guitar/vocals) sharing the lead, delivering powerful and emotive vocals that resonated with the audience.

Divorce showcased a selection of tracks from their debut EP, “Get Mean,” with their debut single, “Services,” from 2022 kicking things off. Their music effortlessly blended alt-country vibes with indie sensibilities, leaving a lasting impression.

Standout moments were many, however the performance of “Eat My Words,” a mellow and sultry piece where the three vocalists deftly weaved their voices together, lightly accompanied by the rhythm and lead guitar was a magical moment that left the audience spellbound – the atmosphere in the hall was palpable with emotion.

With their recent debut EP release and growing reputation, “Divorce” has undoubtedly earned their place in the music scene and left a lasting impression on the audience at Sage Gateshead.

Following the mesmerizing performance by “Divorce,” the second half of the concert was taken by Self Esteem and the Royal Northern Sinfonia. Hailing from Rotherham, she began her musical journey as one half of the band Slow Club before embarking on her solo career. With powerful and precisely articulated lead vocals, her music is characterized by prominent drum rhythms, female choral elements, and a love for big, cinematic sounds. Her solo albums, “Compliments Please” in 2019 and “Prioritise Pleasure” in 2021, have garnered critical acclaim, with the latter being nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize.

We were treated to an extraordinary performance tonight as Self Esteem took the stage, accompanied by her talented live band vocalists – Sophie Galpin, Marged Siôn, Levi Heaton, and Seraphina Simone. The synergy between Self Esteem and her backing singers was nothing short of tremendous, creating a harmonious and captivating musical experience.

The setlist included some of Self Esteem’s most beloved songs, with the audience enthusiastically singing along, even to songs like “F*****g Wizardry,” which prompted an apologetic nod to the Radio 3 listeners for the explicit content.

Adding a new dimension to her performance, Self Esteem was accompanied by the Royal Northern Sinfonia, the UK’s only full-time chamber orchestra and the orchestra of Sage Gateshead. Conducted by Robert Ames, the orchestra brought a fresh and enchanting perspective to Self Esteem’s music through new arrangements by Colin Elliot.

A particularly poignant moment came with “Still Reigning,” a song co-written with Johan Karlberg, where Self Esteem showcased her vulnerability and authenticity; sung without the support of her backing-singer friends. The emotional resonance of this piece was palpable and left a lasting impression.

The concert reached its climax with an encore performance of George Michael’s “Praying for Time.” Self Esteem’s soulful rendition of this classic song, moving and reflective.

Finally, the first concert of the night concluded with “I Do This All the Time,” a track taken from her critically acclaimed second studio album, “Prioritise Pleasure.”

This opening concert of the BBC Proms at Sage Gateshead was a musical triumph, seamlessly transitioning from the indie charm of “Divorce” to the powerful and soul-stirring performance of Self Esteem, accompanied by the Royal Northern Sinfonia – a perfect start to the BBC Proms at Sage Gateshead weekend.

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