Haley in Hackney: Minnesota music feels at home in London


Haley Bonar
Haley Bonar's next album, 'Impossible Dream,' comes out in August 2016. (Graham Tolbert)

"Thank you for all the support here in the U.K.," said Haley Bonar near the end of her sold-out show at the Moth nightclub in London on Thursday, Oct. 27. "I knew I'd find a home somewhere."

Being from Minnesota, and having seen Haley Bonar countless times (from Bryant Lake Bowl in 2003 to Christmas shows at the Cedar to a twilight set at the 2015 State Fair), I should have been taken aback by such a statement, but having witnessed the crowd's phenomenal response to her performance that night, I felt instead nothing but pride for my hometown music scene. And even more that, I felt at home in London that night, too, thanks to the remarkable show Haley Bonar put on for us.

I have been a fan of Haley's since her first record, The Size of Planets, and so it was a no-brainer that we would get tickets for her show when we found out she was going to be playing in London while my wife and I were visiting there. Haley was on a lengthy tour of Europe and the U.K., which included a stop on the Jools Holland show; the show at the Moth (which, notably, sold out before her TV appearance) was one of the last on her tour.

The Moth is in London's Hackney neighborhood, a diverse and hip area in East London. It was two tube lines and an overground train to get out there from central London — quite far from the Disney World feel of Oxford Circus. The neighborhood reminded me of Cedar-Riverside or Midway, with bars and music venues intermixed with stores geared toward people who actually live in the area.

Hackney Central
Hackney Central railway station (Niki Becker)

The Moth was about a five-minute walk from the train station, and from the outside it was difficult to see where to enter or if we were even in the right place. And we weren't alone. A few other people were milling around outside on the sidewalk unsure of where to go. Finally, someone walked over to a side door which led into a bar area. Once in the bar area, it was even less clear what to do. The sign on the door said doors at 7:30, opener at 8:45, Haley at 9:45 and … curfew at 9:45. It was already 8 p.m., and the doors were yet to be opened into the venue.

Hackney Central
Posting on door at Haley Bonar show in London (Niki Becker)

We asked a couple people what the deal was, but they had no idea either. But since we were in Britain, we formed an orderly queue near the entrance to the venue and waited patiently. "Just go with the flow," I was told by a gentleman in a Bristol rugby shirt. After a little while, we were told to go get our hands stamped near the entrance to the bar. And finally — after we were stamped and the pre-bar was jammed — they opened the doors into the venue and we all flooded in.

Entrance to the Moth
Entrance to the Moth, Hackney, London (Niki Becker)

The venue was a long, narrow room with a bar, a dance floor, an elevated stage with gold lights on the back wall and big, comfy booths on one side. For this Twin Cities fellow, it reminded me of the Clown Lounge meets The Eagle's Club. We grabbed a seat in one of the booths and were quickly joined by other concertgoers — creating a sort of "family style" seating environment that you don't really see in Minneapolis.

We got to talking to the people next to us; they had taken the train an hour all the way from Colchester to see Haley. From them, we learned the venue capacity (300 souls, and the room was packed to the gunwales by the time Haley went on), and that although Haley's previous record, Last War, had received lots of airplay on BBC Radio 6, and that her most recent release, Impossible Dream, was a legitimate hit in the country, Haley's earlier records were all but completely unknown there.

This knowledge explained the set list, because when Haley came on (after a short but lovely set from a new French four piece), she didn't play any songs that weren't from Impossible Dream until "From a Cage" six songs in. Stage banter was also noticeably absent (except for her one crowd engagement moment before "Stupid Face," see video below) but she was in fine, fine voice and the band was tight and polished.

Like Haley Bonar shows in Minnesota, the crowd was a wide mix of people: Twentysomething hipsters to middle-aged couples to the old man in the front row who recorded most of the show on his phone and also snagged a set list.

Haley Bonar set list
Haley Bonar set list, London, Oct. 27, 2016 (Matt Becker | MPR)

The crowd also — like Haley herself — grew into the show, becoming livelier and louder (but remaining respectful despite the bar in the back) with each track. The first set culminated in a scorching version of "Kismet Kill," the big single off of her latest record, which obviously was a big hit in the UK, as it had the entire room bouncing and people raising their drinks in the air to toast the song's big lyrical moments.

After "Kismet Kill," Haley said she and her band could leave and come back, but since they had to walk through the crowd to leave the stage, they were just going to stay on stage and keep playing. The audience hooted in agreement that this was a good strategy. The band played "Kill the Fun," "Called you Queen," and closed the night out with a cover of the Phil Spector song (made famous by the Crystals), "Then He Kissed Me."

After the last song, the crowd piled out into the street and there was a buzz in the air outside of the club that you only get after really great shows. We were 4,000 miles from Minneapolis and three trains away from our hotel, but when you see great music — whether it's someone you've seen a hundred times or someone you have never heard of — it always makes you feel like you are right at home. And this is what Haley meant by finding a home in the U.K.

But being from Minnesota, and having followed Haley's career for almost 15 years, that feeling of being at home was amplified by pride in this Minnesota music scene that has entertained the world — the whole world — for so long. Watching strangers who had never heard of Duluth or The Turf Club cheer on one of Minnesota's own was something very special.

Haley is a true Minnesota original, and it was a treat to know that her voice and her songs are reaching an audience far beyond the borders of our state and our country.

Our trip to London was capped off by seeing PJ Harvey at the O2 Brixton Academy, who added another nod to Minnesota in her set by opening her first encore with a cover of Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited."

Minneapolis, Brixton, Hackney or Duluth, it's easy to feel at home anywhere — thanks to music.

About the Author

Matt Becker works in Membership at Minnesota Public Radio. He lives in Minnesota, but is no stranger to Britain, being a longtime Arsenal supporter who has attended matches at Emirates Stadium. Becker is also one of North America's pre-eminent cricket bloggers, writing about the sport on his Limited Overs blog.


Haley Bonar - official site

Moth - official site

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  • Haley Bonar performs in The Current studio Ready to celebrate the release of her latest album, 'Impossible Dream,' at Sociable Cider Werks in Minneapolis on Sunday, Sept. 25, Haley Bonar and her band stopped in to The Current's studio for a session hosted by Mac Wilson.
  • Haley Bonar performs in The Current studio With a new album, 'Last War', scheduled for release on May 20, and an album-release party tonight (May 16) at the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis, Haley Bonar came to The Current's studio to play some new songs and to talk with Mary Lucia.

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