Nights at the Circus
Back in the mid-1990s, when Britain’s culture wars were located in one long tedious to-and-fro over Britpop, something actually far more seditious and extraordinary was bubbling away in the underground. In art-club venues such as the Mint Tea Rooms, the Siren Suite and most recently, KashPoint, Bishi Bhattacharya was remarkable even amongst the remarkables who surrounded her. Then a young art student from a Bengali background, Bishi sang, DJ-ed, composed and spent part of each year in India studying with a sitar master. Fast-forward to the present and a debut album that, despite its nods to Indian classicism and briefer acknowledgements to club beats, is very much its own thing.
Taking its title from Angela Carter’s novel, *Nights at the Circus* shines with the plush sounds that its literary inspiration imagined. Unsurprisingly, it’s a heady mix. Sitars, ripples of tablas, harps, accordions, a few electronic pulses and strong vocals that can summon up shades of Björk, suggest rarefied atmospheres, but Bishi also has her feet on the ground. ‘Nightbus’ brings a troubadour-like lilt to one of the more prosaic experiences of life after dark; and ‘On My Own Again’, a throbbing anthem to love’s travails, breaks free into a stream of percussion and vocals. Interestingly, Bishi allies herself with the new psychedelia current in contemporary folk music. But there is, conversely, a case for hearing, in her cadences and tunings, a homage to such experimental folk pioneers as John Fahey and Bert Jansch, musicians who turned Western music towards the East.