- Prima Queen
- Oscar Browne
- Date: Wednesday 24/05/2023
- Time: 7.30pm
- Price: £10
- Age Restrictions: 16+
- Venue: Clwb Ifor Bach
Prima Queen’s love story is one which cinema could only aspire to. Formed not of romantic love, but of something immeasurably stronger – female friendship and creative partnership – the bond Louise Macphail and Kristin McFadden share carries almost cosmic significance.
Their meeting as best friends, and as the architects of their ethereal, guitar-driven sound, seemed to be stacked in the cards, written into the lines of their palms long before. The plot is woven with the same fated coincidences, meant-to-be moments and stretches of separation as any work of fiction. An instant connection that was nearly missed. A divide of 4,000 miles and an Atlantic Ocean. An almost-marriage. A tour supporting The Big Moon, Dream Wife and Wet Leg, and six-figure streams.
The pair almost didn’t meet at all. It’s impossible, now, to believe there was a reality where they didn’t sit shoulder to shoulder, finishing each other’s sentences just as they finish each other’s lyrics, so familiar are they with the detail of one another’s world. They take turns, as good friends should: while one takes lead on the vocals and the story the lyrics paint, the other will nudge the vision to life with the guitar and offered wisdom.
Kristin, originally from Chicago, chose to study for a semester in London. At the last moment, after plans were set in stone for her flights and accommodation, the course was abruptly cancelled. Following a little bargaining on the phone, it was agreed that Kristin could join their song writing course instead. Louise, in the meantime, who had settled in London after leaving her home city of Bristol, had an ambition to begin an all-female band. A succession of bad “band dates” and tepid jamming sessions meant that her search was all but fruitless – until she saw a video of Kristin playing. She remembers saying those fateful words to her mother: “She’s the one. We’re gonna be in a band, I just know it.”
Louise sat in the front row for Kristin’s first performance in front of the class, and musically proposed, you could say, in front of the class: “Will you be in my band?” Louise shrugs modestly at the memory, “I mean, it is cute. We are pretty cute.” Despite being a stranger in the city, with Louise, Kirstin found a sense of home: she invited her out with her friends, offered up her floor for her to sleep on that night – and even then, only hours into what would grow into a six-year friendship, they shared a mutual certainty that they would become best friends.
When Kristin had to return to finish her degree in the US six months later, Louise brought her to the airport, both in tears. Kristin would remember crying the entire journey home, with puffy eyes for days. They would not see each other again for a year. Yet, against all odds, they would continue to make music together, patching together demos with MP3 files, recorded snippets and shared notes, texting every day without fail. Still nameless, at this point, every effort they made was in service of greater shared ambition, preparing for the day they would be reunited when they could truly begin.
If their story so far was the prelude, then Prima Queen truly starts here, a year down the line and back in London together. Armed with a name, bassist Kitty Drummond, drummer Heledd Owen and an arsenal of demos, the band began to cut their teeth on the live circuit of South London, putting their songs to the test in the likes of Brixton tastemaker, The Windmill. Not even a brief Visa scare could interfere with their renewed creative determination, with the pair even contemplating getting married for the sake of staying together (they did wear wedding dresses for a later photo shoot, so that will have to do).
Their smattering of singles so far barely scratches the surface of unreleased works in Prima Queen’s back catalogue. But as they were carving an identity for themselves as artists, they knew that when it came to sharing the work with the world, if they were going to do it, then they were going to do it right. Their arrival of their 2019 debut single “Milk Teeth” was a statement of intent, with its mellow grooves and intimate, diaristic lyrics which unfurled their feelings in media res, steeped equally in storytelling and vibrant imagery. When the national lockdown erupted the following year, Louise and Kristin had already acclimatised to separation and took the opportunity to delve into the detail of their music, experimenting in ways they couldn’t have previously imagined. What followed was an accelerated evolution. The drum machine in the dusky “Chew My Cheeks” and the opening electronic inflection on their endlessly cathartic single “Invisible Hand”, were all choices made in light of their appetite for new territory.
This was in no small way helped by Juliette “Jules” Jackson and Fern Ford of Mercury Prize shortlisters, The Big Moon. After sparking a friendship with the band on tour, the pair volunteered to assist Prima Queen on production. Decamping to a remote countryside studio for three days, they tapped into fresh ideas and approaches that allowed the band to take their music to the next level. Louise recalls recording the crescendo of “Chew My Cheeks” when they were told to “Scream! Scream like you’re a crazy witch!”
It stands to reason that Prima Queen’s singles released last year are their most adventurous and sensitive portrayals so far. “Eclipse” is an anthem of incredible tension and release about the way your first heartbreak is the hardest to recover from, and “Butter Knife” is a masterclass in spoken-word catharsis, exploring the deterioration of a loved one due to Alzheimer’s. The band sold out their show at The Lexington two months in advance and have already won accolades from The Guardian, the NME and John Kennedy on Radio X, who described Prima Queen’s songs as “future classics… a Lennon-McCartney for the 21st century.”
But with their debut EP Not The Baby on the horizon, Prima Queen are ready to not only deliver on their early promise but far exceed it. This collection of songs, being their first body of work, demonstrates the band’s remarkable gift for empathy beyond their own parallel experiences. They explain, “In this EP, we explore different types of change – birth, death, leaving and returning – and how it can affect our relationships. It’s a reflection not only on our own feelings but also the feelings of our family, friends and lovers.” Resonance, above all else, is what Kristin and Louise are striving for – that, and a sense of unity which bleeds into the way the music is intended to be heard: all together. So, take their hand. Prima Queen are going to tell you a story.