Gig Review: Cinder Well at Metronome

Words: Phil Taylor
Photos: Josh Dwyer
Sunday 17 September 2023
reading time: min, words

Cinder Well recently began their UK tour with a memorable and sometimes mystical performance at Metronome...


A quiet Thursday night: Nottingham feeling autumnal after the unseasonal heat of the previous week, the city hushed in anticipation of the return of the students. The clean lines of the Metronome auditorium lit with blue and violet light; round tables and fairy lights setting the scene; American roots and Country and Western music playing through the PA, over hushed, eager, conversation.

Into this environment slipped Jiminil, a familiar name on the Nottingham music scene, making an unobtrusive entry to the stage and sitting down to tune his acoustic. After a modest, cheerful and humorous few words of greeting, Jim treated us to a five-minute long instrumental (one song, or perhaps two joined together?) - his finger-picked, down-tuned guitar emitting a lovely, resonant and bass-rich sound, which Jim complemented with frequent harmonics. So cinematic it was that I’m sure I saw seascapes and heathery moors behind the dimly lit Nottingham stage.


Then, during his introductory words, he broke a string - it was clearly a horrible surprise and a very difficult moment. You could see the cogs turning, as Jim worked out which songs in his set could still work, and what might need to be swapped out. But he pressed on with just five strings left, and to be honest, he handled it admirably well. Those five strings held out and Jim’s skill with his fingers meant you could hardly notice the difference. It was a beautiful recovery and one which many artists may have struggled a lot more with.

Jim’s shortened set included Madeline, “inspired by someone who threw up in the taxi next to me”, but beautiful all the same and showcasing his deep, resonant vocals. Other highlights were a thoughtful cover of a folk tune, Lough Erne Shore; Riddles, from Jim’s February 2023 album Other Men’s Flowers, packed with complex picking and those wistful vocals, which somehow seem to contain hundreds of years of folk tale-telling tradition; and, to end, the album’s title track. 


The circumstance was far from ideal - I’d love to hear another, incident-free, set from this artist - but it revealed Jim’s true character. He is quite obviously a lovely person, and almost painfully self-effacing. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who really wanted to jump up on stage and give him a big pat on the back. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer person.

Half an hour later, time for Cinder Well. This is a project of the multi-talented Amelia Baker who splits her time between California and County Clare in the West of Ireland. Nottingham was the first stop on her UK tour, on which she is joined by Marit Schmidt, a Seattle-based musician who played on Cinder Well’s 2018 and 2020 albums, The Unconscious Echo and No Summer. Tonight, Marit played fiddles and (occasionally) synth, adding welcome depth and support to the sound.


As I had secretly hoped, the opener was the haunting Two Heads, Grey Mare. This quickly transformed the gig into an immersive, almost spiritual, experience thanks to the skilful playing and Amelia’s ethereal, softly rasping vocals. From there, the music segued directly into Overgrown, a masterfully composed song which brings a sense of relief as the chords resolve, and melds into a kind of lament as Amelia repeats the keyword, pushing out the first syllable.

Amelia transitioned from her strat to a steel-bodied guitar for A Scorched Lament, a song which became a heady rush of violin and guitar, resonance and beautifully discovered cadence. And then came Crow: a more measured and definite song, ghostly in its beauty, and including plucked violin, bent notes and minor-leaning progressions, along with tight vocal harmonies. This was perhaps the pinnacle of the set.


Having focused on songs from the newest album, Cadence, Amelia then moved to some of the older Cinder Well material. 2018’s The Insulation of the Silence provided a 'wow' moment, Amelia’s voice standing alone in fragility at times; and No Summer, a song written “from the perspective of a Cailifornian living in County Clare” was utter perfection.

During her cover of a trad folk song called WildeGeeses, by Michael Hurley, Amelia’s voice became otherworldly at times, like a theremin, and she was brave enough to whistle, too.

The final few songs of the set proved Amelia’s ability to not only create atmospheric intensity, but sustain it. The line “you found a cadence” (from the title song of her 2023 album) summed up much of what I’d been feeling. I had expected beauty and atmosphere from Cinder Well, but the depth of feeling evoked by the music performed live still caught me by surprise. It felt like the pair were discovering sounds from beyond time and revealing them to us. It reminded me of that quote by Michelangelo, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set it free”.


I Will Close in the Moonlight was delicately judged, poised perfectly, and ended unresolved. Amelia and Marit took a thirty-second break before returning to play, as an encore, From Behind the Curtain. Here, Amelia seemed to choose her words carefully, taking time to set out the free verse form of the song for us, singing unabashedly. It was pure and straightforward, the best kind of poetry: this is Cinder Well.

Cinder Well performed at Metronome on 14 September 2023.

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