Last weekend saw Winterplay’s UK debut and launch of their first western album on Universal. Three gigs in two remarkably different settings. Their first performance was in the Cultural Centre on Friday 10 September. Demonstrating the remarkable flexibility of the space, the area next to the reception desk had been converted into a stage, with plush red curtains over the big windows giving the venue an intimate club feel. The large speakers on either side of the stage threatened to deafen the audience, but levels were set sensitively.
The second two concerts were in the shadow of the London Eye as part of the Thames Festival. The image of Winterplay in the various online publicity videos available focuses on the striking looks of the lead singer, Moon Hyewon, presenting a restrained, cool almost emotionless ice maiden image. In reality, the band is more balanced, and the lead singer is warmer and affords herself the occasional smile. Playing in the open air, they turned up the volume as well as the emotion (they needed to, in order to compete with the hip-hop coming from a nearby stage), and for the evening gig at the vocalist literally let her hair down.
But it is wrong to focus just on the lead singer. Trumpeter Lee Juhan (also the band’s producer) produces a refined sound, and experienced bass player So Eunkyu provides the harmonic foundation of the group. For me, the one to watch is the guitarist and secondary vocalist Choi “Saza” Woojoon, equally at ease playing rhythm or solo.
The title track is in fact a Japanese song, reworked with English lyrics by Lee Juhan. Lee in fact provides half of the tracks on the album, with the remaining songs being cover versions – including Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean, Sting’s Moon over Bourbon Street and Rod Stewart’s “You’re in my heart”, all very tastefully done, and some may prefer Winterplay’s version of Billie Jean, which is refreshingly lacking in the vocal hiccups of the King of Pop, while the intro has an informed nod to Miles Davis. Lee Juhan’s original songs all have a refined sense of fun, with a Latin flavour creeping into the rhythms.
This isn’t high energy music, and it’s not going to set the pulse racing. But it’s well-crafted, well-performed and immensely civilised.
Songs of Colored Love is available on CD from 20 September 2010.
Thanks to Lee Hyung-wook of The East and Kim Young-shin for the images.