Learning From Ghosts: Purson In Manchester
Rosalie Cunningham has penned Purson's stunning new album with a "happy and free" mind. She explains how visions of Ghosts are driving her band towards a promising future.
Words: Phil Weller | Photos: Anthony Firmin
The smell of incense floats through the air as I enter Purson’s backstage area. Underground below the Night & Day Café in Manchester’s trending Northern Quarter, the room, with its stripped, graffitied walls and urban feel, is a subtle reminder of the area’s less decadent past.
Rosalie Cunningham, the band’s charismatic frontwoman, is strumming a 12 string acoustic guitar, her honey dripped vocals tangling in the air with the incense.
She puts the guitar down and walks over to me, keeping her distance as to not infect me with the cold that put tonight’s sold out show in jeopardy. “It’s the worst feeling not having any control over the thing that’s leading the band,” she admits in a slightly hoarse tone. “I did feel like not playing before. I literally have a sack full of medicine that’s keeping me going.”
With a new record, Desire’s Magic Theatre, awaiting its imminent release, the band is traipsing across the UK for the first time in quite a while. A great degree has happened since then.
Says Rosalie: “We haven’t actually played the UK properly in a few years and even then it wasn’t as extensive as this. It’s been interesting to see our demographic become a lot younger.”
Learning from Ghosts
Last year’s American tour supporting the occult loving Swedes, Ghost, has provided one of the most important changes on the band since that last UK tour. It had a monumental impact as they edged closer to writing and releasing the follow up to the much-lauded The Circle And The Blue Door.
“Playing with them definitely influenced us as a professional, viable business. The way they handled themselves behind the scenes kinda made us grow up a gear, they take themselves very seriously and are very hard working – we’d like to be in their shoes in a year or so. It was inspiring to see the difference between kids jamming in a band and your band being your career.
“That tour was our longest stretch out on the road together and it made us a lot closer,” she continues, her voice improving a little. “You don’t get much privacy so it really made us appreciate each other’s quirks. You have to be very emotionally open with each other. Everything’s under a microscope so the tiniest little thing can blow up if you’re not open with each other about it. That intimacy definitely helps with the music.”
Happy and free
And of the album that marks their arrival in Manchester tonight, Rosalie says it was born from a “free and happy” mind. “There wasn't too much baggage going on, just a childlike innocence of exploring whatever I wanted to explore musically at the time without having to prove myself to anyone. It is very fantasy based; the ideas going on in my head were never really externalised until we started recording.”
With six new songs played from the album tonight, they perform an amalgamating set that charter’s their short but successful career so far – with no prevailing evidence of Rosalie’s ailments.
Defined by a punkish, pysch-swamped sound, Nottingham’s Crosa Rosa provided an interesting support slot. Much rawer and aggressive than Purson, they stamped their individuality all over the stage, throwing themselves about with a fizzing energy. For me, however, it never quite grabbed me.
There are vocal similarities between these guys and the likes of Mars Volta and At The Drive-In, with a kindred musicality in the their dreaminess and wistful primalism also. All criticisms however, derive from personal taste, and you cannot fault what they are doing.
I look around the Night & Day’s narrow layout, the bar flanking one side of it, bodies clambering around tables and chairs on the other. I’ve never seen the room this packed before and it’s credence to an act which transcends musical boundaries.
Much like when you go to a Motörhead show there are fans of classic rock, punk and metal who seem to often be there solely for that one aesthetic of the band’s sound, there is still a sense of community that prevails, and it’s a community like no other. And that is what makes their set so amalgamating.
For Purson, their sound is deftly a balanced tri-force of towering doom, swirling psycahdelia and grandiose, enterprising prog rock. From the sensational opener of Spiderwood Farm which has the crowd swaying and moving almost hypnotically, to the lucidity of The Window Cleaner and the Jethro Tull / Small Faces inspired Magic’s Desire Theatre, it is a set full of diversity that leaves no stone unturned.
Yet, it all feels so natural. Their multifaceted sound is by no means tailored by design; it is just a result of where the creative heart’s behind this outfit lie.
They grace the stage with a memorable, warming charisma. Electric Landlady boasting some tasty Iommi channelling riff work, Leaning On A Bear tremendously catchy and, thankfully, has more of an infectious romp upon my imagination than Rosalie’s cold.
As a journalist, it can often feel lazy to drop such superlatives as ‘sepcial’ and ‘unique’, but here is a band which deserves such a bold underlining. The way they float betwixt heavy, dangerous doom rock and spacey sounds, all tied up in a glittering progressive rock pomp bow is beyond admirable.
For more proof of just how convincing a live band they are, you only need to look at their recent last minute performance at HRH Prog Festival, stepping in as a replacement for Curved Air. By no means a small name.
“We got asked to step in the day before and we are massive Curved Air fans. But no one was really told so we stepped out into a packed theatre of people waiting to see Curved Air,” Miss Cunningham retold me back stage. “Thank god we won them over; it was a really enjoyable gig. It’s had a very big impact on our tour sales. So for the rest of the tour [following that gig, which came half way though] a lot of people who saw us there have been turning up to see us again.
We need to sneak into bigger band’s slots, secretly poison them,” she adds, jokingly.
But, where Romeo & Juliet was a love story which sought to poison for its own tragic ‘happy ending’, I strongly believe that Purson need not resort to such drastic measures.
Tonight there is a prickling feeling – an energy – in the air that tells me this band is already well on its way to bigger, better and – dare I say it? – more special things.