The Witching Way is a concept album by Ali and the Celestial Seasonings. It tells the story of W, a millennial born and raised a witch. She is the kind of woman you might bump into at Affleck’s Palace on an afternoon. It depicts how W loses and finds herself again, as she is suddenly transported to an ancient house in Pendle, and reads the tribulations of a witch called Rowan.
Accompanied by animated visuals, this piece of gig theatre is performed in the Royal Exchange’s Studio space. With its concept concerning two witches, The Witching Way seems perfectly fitting for a cold Halloween evening.
The band’s music is excellent. The album’s songs span a diverse array of musical genres, from heavy punk rock to softer, unplugged folk songs. The band strongly remind me of the American band, L7. They are all talented musicians, particularly RashDash Theatre’s Becky Wilkie, who plays several instruments including the keyboards, synthesisers, and bass guitar. I am a huge fan of RashDash, so it was a nice surprise to see Wilkie in this.
Ali Matthews fronts the band, bringing a punk presence with her spiked white hair. She narrates the piece, mixing songs with spoken material. Matthews commands an impressive vocal range. With a subdued delicacy for the more acoustic songs, she instinctively changes this to a grungier growl for the heavier pieces.
However, during these louder songs, Ali Matthews’ vocals are overpowered by the instruments, particularly the drums. This could be because her voice doesn’t carry, or because it’s a small venue, that the sound mixing wasn’t right on the night, or perhaps the Royal Exchange’s studio space is more acoustically suited to theatre than rock music. Nonetheless, it makes the narrative in the songs increasingly difficult to discern.
If The Witching Way is simply a live gig, I wouldn’t mind only being able to distinguish every word within the songs’ lyrics, but it is heavily reliant on its narrative. With the story of the songs hard to decipher, I had to rely on Matthews’ spoken narration to make any sense of them. Perhaps some subtitles on the screen behind the band could help make the songs more accessible, particularly if the audience isn’t familiar with rock music.
Despite this, there is plenty to like about the piece. Adam York Gregory‘s visual animations that accompany the music are delightfully bonkers. I also love the repeated motif of the rowan berry. It works well to forge a connection between the two witches and provides a strong link to the past.
Sadly, not being able to hear some of the lyrics let The Witching Way down. As a piece of gig-theatre, it also lacks theatrical excitement and artistic variety. Compared to the likes of RashDash, it just doesn’t compare. Saying that, I will certainly purchase the album, if it is released, because the music rocked!