When she emerges onto the stage at to the sound of a low drone at The Exchange, Holysseus Fly is obscured by a net curtain. She begins with her back to the rapt audience, enigmatic through the shroud as she begins to sing Bloom – “Don’t expect me to sing / I’ll bloom / When I choose to.” In a simple but hugely effective piece of stagecraft that is indicative of the entire show, she turns to pull down the curtain, revealing herself. And if this hometown launch of her EP Birthpool is about anything, it is about Holysseus Fly revealing herself, exposing her art as well as her soul.
The performance tessellates around two themes. Firstly, there is the breast cancer she was diagnosed with and treated for four years ago, when about to go on tour with surging Bristol band Ishmael Ensemble. She recovered enough to join them at Glastonbury in 2019, and made a triumphant return this year, to the West Holts stage. Holysseus Fly is candid about her treatment, her recovery and mental struggles. It was her diagnosis that sparked this solo venture – her first reaction to being given the news was “but I haven’t made a solo album yet.” The strength is clear in her voice during her first single Marigold, the flowers on her chest seen by her mother and aunt.
The second theme is water, and the show is full of imaginings of the sea. During Anchors, written after she saw the Little Mermaid, she sings “the anchors on my chest rest on the seabed of my heart.” If forced to choose between living in the clouds or under the sea, she explains, there is only one place she would go – down to the depths, among the shipwrecks and seaweed. From the ethereal singing of Within the Water, to the name of the EP, to the way her long train is billowed behind her like waves, the show is blue and deep and watery.
Describing her style as a mixture of James Blake and Lady Gaga, Holysseus Fly is unafraid to mix downbeat melodic electronica with flashes of pop exuberance. She covers Moses Sumney’s version of Björk’s Come to Me with reverberation, before Brook Tate and Bethany Kyle join her onstage for a joyful version of the aforementioned Lady Gaga’s Telephone. Teach Me, meanwhile, takes a danceable but piercing stab at the world of mansplaining.
Holysseus Fly showcases the kind of voice and stagecraft that could envelop and enthral much larger venues and audiences. This is an emotionally raw, beautifully sculpted show, which reaches a fitting finale with an evocative take on Swan Lake and the emergence of a fully-formed being. It is clear that Holysseus Fly is destined for great things.