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Whyte Horses review – engaging, eccentric extravaganza of faux-French pop

Royal Festival Hall, London
Dom Thomas’s shifting musical collective weave nuanced spells behind guests including Mélanie Pain, La Roux and a children’s choir in one of the year’s most endearing gigs

5 /
5 stars

5 out of 5 stars.

As the founder of an esoteric Manchester vinyl reissue label, Finders Keepers, Dom Thomas is a music obsessive and inveterate crate-digger. From this fixation, he has created something poignant, uplifting and enchanting.

Thomas is creator and curator of Whyte Horses, a shifting musical collective who dream up exquisitely calibrated indie-psych, cosmic folk and, primarily, airy 60s French-style pop. He also crafts events such as this one-off extravaganza, which he semi-jokingly compares to the Velvet Underground’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable multimedia events.

Thomas is a low-key presence on guitar among 15 musicians who weave nuanced spells behind a rota of guest vocalists. The barefoot, cooing Mélanie Pain, late of Nouvelle Vague, evokes Brigitte Bardot’s frothy but fierce excursions into pop on the haunting Never Took the Time and La Couleur Originelle.

Behind them flicker a parade of arcane, eye-catching visuals, from a fluttering butterfly to the movie Kes to 1960s Babycham adverts. This Dream is spectral, apparitional drone-folk, a bizarre melding of Vashti Bunyan and Spiritualized; The Snowfalls appropriates a low-key, mesmeric motorik pulse that evokes Stereolab.

Whyte Horses rerecorded their 2016 debut album, Pop or Not, with St Bart’s Children’s Choir, who reappear here to emphasise the naif innocence at the heart of Elusive Mr Jimmy. A family illness means Badly Drawn Boy is a late no-show, but La Roux makes The Best of It sound like a great lost song from Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire de Melody Nelson.

Pain reappears to turn Todd Rundgren’s 1972 hit I Saw the Light into rarefied lounge-pop before Gruff Rhys meanders on to croon the off-kilter Welsh kiddie-rock of Tocyn. It’s all eccentric, engaging, and one of the most endearing musical events of the year.

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