Penelope Isles @ Gullivers, Manchester, 30 Jan

Although there could be a bit more showmanship on stage from Penelope Isles, you can’t help but thrill at the prospect of what they’re going to do next

Live Review by Pete Wild | 05 Feb 2020
  • Penelope Isles

Brighton-based brother and sister-led four-piece Penelope Isles take to the stage of the admittedly rather glum upstairs room in Gullivers in high spirits. “Hi Manchester,” Jack Wolter says, surrounded by pedals. “We love Manchester,” his sister Lily adds (not, it should be said, for the only time of the night – Manchester feels the love).

For the uninitiated, Penelope Isles make a sound that veers between ornate and coruscating. There are times when they sound like an indie band transported through time from 1986 (Jack’s guitar leans in the direction of Johnny Marr circa Girl Afraid at times). But their sound is contemporary too, fraught with that angular millennial chill you see infused in the music of a band like Another Sky. If you’d just heard their debut album, Until the Tide Creeps In, it’s possible you might think Penelope Isles were fronted by Lily but it is in fact Jack’s own Jonathan Donohue-like falsetto that adorns the majority of songs.

And so we get a gallop through their debut and all its many standouts – Chlorine, Round (a song they’ve been playing since day one, they tell us), Leipzig and particular highlights Cut Your Hair, Round and the mighty Gnarbone, which we heartily recommend you go and listen to. It will improve your day no end.

Although they're obviously enjoying themselves, Penelope Isles radiate that kind of new band awkwardness and, in the brooding presence of bassist and occasional extra guitarist Becky Radford, a soulful intensity. Saying all of that, there is a little bit too much knob-twiddling – albeit in service of some incredible whale-like guitar noise – that could be sacrificed in favour of a notch or two more showmanship.

But when Jack, Lily and Becky are hunched over their amps, you sense them stood, like old time cowboys, above a grand vista of noise as if seeing it for the first time and you can’t help but thrill at the prospect of what they’re going to do next.