Live Review: Chelou - The Cellar, Oxford 10/11/17
I caught up with the elusive Chelou before his headline set at Oxford's best underground music venue The Cellar, to have a chat about two of the best things in the world, music and photography.
I reminisced with Chelou, about how I discovered his music on Spotify, and in stark contrast to A-list musicians, most notably Taylor Swift, who don't allow their music to be streamed on these services, Chelou absolutely loves the music platform for the very reason I just gave him. For new artists it is one of the best ways to get noticed by a wider audience as people like myself explore similar artists to those we already love and you can come across some great talent.
I quickly grew to love Chelou's DIY atmospheric music and the more we talked the more excited I became to see his performance. We began talking about how music is so much more than just the song, we were in complete agreement that music is an art form that is expressed during the performance. We had a dislike for bands who just stand and don't interact with the audience or other band members. As a photographer I explained how I like to capture the performer and their music and Chelou eagerly expressed his love of photography, differentiating between someone who just takes a photo and someone who is able to portray a message. It was so refreshing to hear this from a musician, as all too often music photographers are viewed as fans who don't want to pay for a ticket. The truth is that taking photos during a live performance actually takes your attention away from the music, so it then becomes a skill to keep focus on both capturing the moment and listening to the music. By listening to the music it actually helps you to prepare for moments when the artist might mix things up a bit, like guitar solos or jumps, and as you become more experienced you can start to anticipate the change in lighting.
Chelou explained the journey behind one of his featured portraits, a black and white portrait image with distressed edges; A Tintype. I proceeded to ask how that came about as Tintype cameras are a skill to use and hard to come by unless you build your own. Turns out he has a friend who did indeed build his own and Chelou was a very willing and befitting subject and he was just as fascinated by the outcome of the image as I was.
I then asked him about the photo for his Mothership EP. Turns out the image is that of his mother who worked in the circus, touring Europe, and yes, she is sat on a giant canon. That was her act, being fired from a canon! I was left speechless, I instantly had so much admiration for her, especially when Chelou explained they had other photos of her fellow co-workers who were left with life changing injuries as their act didn't go according to plan, highlighting the risk his mother was taking. I drew comparisons between the Mothership cover and that of Led Zeppelin's 1 album cover and of course “Mothership” is a term often referenced in other artworks by the band. Chelou was nodding in total agreement, Led Zeppelin were clearly an influence and the Mothership photo was a befitting tribute to an inspirational mother and band.
The time soon flew by and Chelou took to the stage with just his drummer to accompany him. The room filled up nicely and there was a very strong support from the Oxford crowd, many of whom danced away and cheered after each song. I felt that the live performance did lose some of the atmosphere that seeps out of the recorded material, but when you're recording music in your bedroom it is going to be hard to recreate that in a live setting.
Chelou actually comes across more as a long lost brother of Kurt Cobain, reviving the grunge look but with a softer appeal and full of smiles as he strutted around with his beautiful Gretsch guitar. Stand out tracks “Don't Hate on Me” and “You're So Good” were just as good live, if a little heavier on the guitar, the vocals are flawless and perfect in such an intimate venue.
The new material went down exceptionally well, proving that despite Chelou having already gathered quite a healthy following, some say almost “cult like”, their music is going from strength to strength. “Halfway to Nowhere” received a big welcome when the intro started to play; “I sing for pleasure / I have sung for pain / I'm still halfway to nowhere” demonstrates Chelou's open and honest lyrics that people can relate to. This is how he has been able to gain such a loyal fanbase despite having a low media presence.
They ended the night with new track “Damned Eye Sea”, receiving the biggest cheer of the night, drinks being raised and more dancing commenced. Good things are on the horizon for Chelou as they gear up for another round of gigs in Europe next year but if you're in London then you can catch them performing at Omeara on the 30th November.
Words and Photography by Rachel Prew