With a backstory featuring Stanley Kubrick’s estate, a Los Angeles cult, William Blake’s grave, a near-death experience in the Mojave desert, Jim Morrison’s meditation chamber, and a bust-up at Father John Misty’s wedding, you’d expect Saint Leonard’s Horses’ debut album to be special.
You’d be right. The twelve tracks of Good Luck Everybody rock up ‘70s Laurel Canyon folk with big Eagles-style hooks as British (now resident in LA) frontman Kieran Leonard’s slightly-rough-around-the-edges voice as he negotiates such nimble turns of phrase as “swimming through the ashes of the bridges I burned”.
Performed live, and in sequence, to an attentive midweek crowd, these songs grow in stature, benefiting not just from the singer’s palpable charisma, but the dynamism of the musicians behind him. So as the mid-tempo Spooky Lover reaches a crescendo, the rising tension in Leonard’s movements matches the swirl of drums, organ, and strangled electric guitar around him, before he ends up on his knees at the foot of the stage.
Just moments later, during an hypnotic rendition of Little Girl Scientist, a simple hand gesture beckoning the audience closer, completely transforms the energy within the venue and belies the fact that Leonard’s been doing this live music thing for a while. (The story of the song stems from that very public bust up at his friend Father John Misty’s wedding.)
Since releasing his debut Carl Barat produced EP back in 2009, he’s played and toured with the likes of Bob Dylan, Ryan Adams, Beck, The Strokes, and Barat’s band, The Libertines, clearly honing his craft as a songwriter and performer along the way.
With just the right amount of playful, self-effacing humour (introducing himself as Taylor Swift; using the microphone to wipe the sweat from his eyes; recommending people buy the LP so they can revisit tonight’s songs “without having to endure my presence”), he cuts an engaging, articulate, but still slightly mysterious, figure. Yet, despite the strength of his personality Kieren Leonard never lets it distract from the carefully finessed songs.
In fact, he pays such attention to sonic detail that, at a time when cutting corners is a music industry catchphrase, one of his Horses (album producer Nick Trepka) is a dedicated backing singer (and tambourine shaker). So even moments like the acoustic guitar/harmonica/keys ballad Hell and High Water, of course undersold during the introduction, sound impeccable.
But it’s the songs that take full advantage of the six musicians on stage that shine brightest: the sweeping Goddess of Electric Gold, that name-checks Charlie Chaplin and James Joyce en route to a finale of cataclysmic proportions; the tender folk ballad turned ballsy rocker 1969 Revisited, the flashy ‘60s psychedelia of Underwood Milk and The Ever Open Door, the perfectly sculpted musical equivalent of one of those sweeping epics Hollywood used to make. Closing the album with elegance and power, it serves an identical purpose on a Wednesday night at The Borderline.
Oh, and the Kubrick connection: Good Luck Everybody, the first album under the Saint Leonard’s Horses banner, was recorded at Childwickbury Manor in St Albans, the former estate of Stanley Kubrick.
Saint Leonard’s Horses will release the single Little Girl Scientist on Xtra Mile Recordings on 2 June. It’s taken from the album Good Luck Everybody, which is released physically on 19 May.
Live Review by Nils van der Linden Concert Photography by Edyta K
Saint Leonard’s Horses were at The Borderline on 3 May 2017