Martha Tilston is a charming, lovely young woman with a beautiful smile and a rich, pure voice. Down in Manchester for a couple of days on external examining duties, I decided to get out of my hotel (pub quiz night for the travelling salesmen, apparently…) and catch a gig. Despite the long drive to Biddulph (pretty country lanes, lots of rhododendrons, big fuck off houses…) I’m glad I chose this one.
I downloaded her latest album, Machines of Love and Grace, in preparation for this. It’s a lovely, hippy folky album with a political edge; what surprised me is that Tilston’s voice is even better live. Accompanied by the excellent Matt Edge, there’s not a single bum note in two sets lasting a couple of hours. Her politics are clearest in “Wall Street” that, despite a fairly limited lyric, feels as if it’s straight out of the Sixties protest movement, with a great hook. Better yet is “More”, telling the story of how Tilston refused advertising agencies’ temptations in order to keep her credibility to herself as much as to anyone else, while “Silent Women” is an eloquent answer to those who would prefer the little women to be seen and not heard.
Some of the less overly political pieces are lovely. She begins with “Night Rambling”, which is really spine-tinglingly gorgeous. Lovely too is “Survival Guide”, the only song I’ve ever heard that included references to narwhals but offers a poignant message to her children.
She finishes off with two “fan fiction” paeans to first Joni Mitchell (“Butterflies”) and then, sultrily and sexily, Leonard Cohen (“Old Tom Cat”). Throughout and chatting to her afterwards, she’s warm and sweet and generous with her time, despite being exhausted from a long day’s mothering. She tells me of supporting at the Old Fruitmarket and the difficulties caused by 400 drunk and partisan Roddy Frame fans who she eventually herds like cats into singing like angels, and thanks me for loving vinyl as she signs my LP: her voice sounds much lovelier spinning on my turntable than it does in download. I especially like the opening track, “Stags Bellow“, which she doesn’t perform; if autumn mist makes a sound, it sounds like this. Definitely worth seeing again…
Support is provided by Clair Brennan, a feisty slip of a girl with an interesting voice and delivery. I don’t know if it’s the darkness hinted at in her soul or the way she looks at the audience askance at times, but I get a couple of millisecond flashbacks to Jake Thackray, that oddball folk singer of the 1960s who scared the bejasus out of me then but who I am now coming round to thinking was some kind of genius. Its no compliment to a young woman, though, and so I hope she’ll forgive me given I bought her CD.
What a lovely concert this was.
I saw Claudia Aurora at WOMAD last year, and she impressed me a lot, so I decided to drive through to Dunfermline to see her again. Well worth the trip. The Carnegie Hall is a pretty little theatre in the old municipal manner, but unfortunately word hasn’t got out that a fantastic fadista is in town and there are only around 30 in the audience. Having said that, Dunfermline doesn’t seem to be the liveliest place on the planet: wandering the streets, I wondered if an evil overload had the inhabitants under curfew…
Still, the audience is warm and receptive. Aurora repeats much of her WOMAD set, and the black and red costume, the side table lit by a red lamp, the wine bottle and glass, all attempt to recreate the fado bar aesthetic. She herself is lovely: warm, charming, sexy and, of course, with a gorgeously rich voice – the venerable and friendly gentleman behind me is most impressed by her middle register, he says.
The most successful numbers from her first album - the fado-walz “Silencio“, the beautifully upbeat “Mariquinha” and, my favourite, the flamenco/fado epic tale of impossible love “Cigana” – are delivered impeccably. She also introduces me to fado/bossa nova with “Formiga Bossa Nova” which likens humans to worker ants. “Povo que lavas no rio” is about the poverty and famine of 19th century Portugal and is really beautiful. She sings some new songs she’s working on for her second album too, and an absolute stand out is one about a mother pining for her emigree son (how very Highland Clearance) called “Lua” that is gob smacking, with a haunting vocal and a spine-tingling cello solo from the excellent Kate Short. The CD will be worth it just for that show stopper.
The rest of the band, too, are wonderful, including Javier Moreno on acoustic guitar, Andres Garcia on a teeny weeny 12-string guitar apparently called a viola braguesa, and Jon Short on double-bass. The guitarists are especially great: after the interval, they come on stage for a duet that has the “crowd” cheering, Garcia’s fingers moving at pretty much superhuman speed.
They come down into the auditorium for an acoustic encore of “Primavera” that is gently haunting, even allowing little Alexander – a toddler belonging to a young Portuguese mother in the front row – to join in the act.
A great night. Dunfermline missed a trick on it.
I’ve heard conflicting stories about Mark Everett’s live shows, from “He was so up himself” and “Boring” to “Brilliant” and “You’ve got a ticket? God, I’m so jealous”. It seems the tenor of the shows depend on his mood or his mental state. Tonight, he must be feeling quite at ease with the world, because this is one of the best guitar band gigs I’ve been to in the last twenty five years, and is even enough to make me enjoy the O2 Academy for a change.
Everett also seems to be settling into a lineup – this is the third tour he’s done with The Chet on lead guitar, Knuckles on drums, Koool G. Murder on bass (a man who has the coolest bassist head bop on the planet) and P-Boo on guitar. Rather than the long-time habit of having a rotating door for the musicians he works with, it feels like a band that really knows itself.
Dressed in black retro Adidas tracksuits and all sporting resplendent beards and shades, they’re like a demented 60s beat band, or a bizarre Twilight Zone version of Diana Ross and the Supremes. And they’re here to rock, and it’s fantastic. Right from the start, they hit the ground running with cool as fuck riffs from the new album, “Wonderful, Glorious” – “Bombs Away”, “Peach Blossom” and “New Alphabet“ are raw and scuzzy and sound even more muscular than the album versions because it’s all just guitars, guitars, guitars.
They’re also up for a few crowd pleasing covers, most especially a rip-snorting “Oh Well” and a catchy “Itchycoo Park”. There’s a real sense of fun and bonhomie; Everett is full of cuddles for the band and jokes for the audience, and there’s even a “wedding” as he and The Chet renew their vows to each other as band members on what is their tenth anniversary of working together. They finish with two encores, the second a mammoth, pyrotechnic snarling epic of Fresh Blood, and then, after half the audience have left and the lights have long gone up, they come back out for an “impromptu” final number that seems to be habitual, blasting away “Go Eels”.
This really was brilliant. Eels are a band I’ve dipped into now and again, always feeling there might be something quite wonderful in there. This just confirms that feeling, and I’ll be back as often as I can.
Something Else. Or, rather, Something Eels. And then some.
Well this is a first. My pal Ian suggests we go along to see one of his all time favourite bands, and I discover that the support is John Fullbright. I’ve seen acts twice in the same year before, but never twice in the same weekend. It’s a short support set tonight, but “Gawd Above” benefits from the increased volume the ABC can offer, and he rocks it.
Little Feat have never really been on my radar. One of those 70′s US bands that defined the mid-west sound for the likes of the Allman Brothers, Crosby, Still and Nash and The Eagles generation, I was always aware of them but didn’t listen to them so didn’t become a fan. However, Ian’s recommendations are always fine by me: I still remember the first time we met, in a student common room at Glasgow University where we were both studying English. As boys do, we got talking about music. “What’s your favourite band? he asked. Sheepish, I said, “Barclay James Harvest” thinking I would be instantly damned for being the most uncool student on campus. Instead, he hooted with delight. “Mine too!” he cried. “Well, after the Quo.” He got me in to them too; their farewell to the Apollo was a momentous event in my musical history.
I haven’t listened to music like this for nigh on 30 years. All of the ingredients of the finest Americana are there; fast cars, weed, alcohol and oodles of women pepper their songs, very few of which I dimly recognise, like their classic “Dixie Chicken“. Musically, they’re as tight as a drum. Only one original member – Bill Payne of keyboards – remains, but that’s enough to ensure they’re definitely not the Sugababes. Fred Tackett – the owner of the finest head of greybeard hair on the planet – and Paul Barrere are fine guitarists and front men, their solos feeding off each other, and Kenny Gradney is a superb bassist. There’s elements of rag, honky-tonk, blues, bluegrass all in there, but mainly it’s head down, full steam ahead boogie. If some of the epics slip occasionally into self-indulgence, that can be forgiven; longevity of this quality deserves a bit of reverence.
Fine, fun stuff.
A bit of good old boy Americana from Celtic Connections. Oklahoman John Fullbright, at the tender age of 24, is a terrific new talent.
He has a huge range of tones and styles at his fingertips, from classic maudlin country (never my favourite) to down and dirty blues, with touches of Jackson Browne and Randy Newman along the way. He’s a fine guitarist and piano player (he expresses delight at the beauty of the Art Club’s grand in the corner), and blows mean harmonica too. The big selling point, though, is his voice: I’ve always preferred the female voice, but there’s something exceptional about his, especially when he leaves the grit behind and sings so plaintively, as on “Me Wanting You”.
He has some big, big songs in his repertoire too, such as “Jericho”, “Satan and St Paul” or “Gawd Above“. These are sit up and take notice numbers. In an industry dominated by auto-tuned, overproduced banal mediocrity, you wonder if there is any space for a singer of his type; thankfully, the country music business in the US should ensure he’ll grow and have the success he deserves – and he deserves to be huge.
He is supporting Otis Gibbs, who is honest enough to admit that in a few years, the roles will be reversed. Gibbs is perhaps more one-dimensional than Fullbright, but that’s no bad thing. He’s a real train track troubadour, unsigned by any label; he peddles his stories across the globe, mistaken for a homeless person in Frankfurt, completely bypassing his gig in Stockholm and finding himself lost in Finland thanks to a dodgy GPS. And that life, he says, is good to him.
And his stories are brilliant, whether he’s recounting dodgy experiences in truck stops or telling of his bonkers upbringing in Wanamaker, Indiana, surrounded by naked hillbilly women, taken to the local honky tonk so he could sing for tips that his “uncle” would then drink away. In song, though, his stories are even more seductive. “Caroline” is peopled with the kinds of characters familiar from James McMurtry’s blue-collar desolation. I particularly like “Kansas City”, with that pin sharp setting of a desolate hotel room like a faded Hopper and the elegance of construction that turns “day dream” to “dazed dream”.
He’s a charming guy, that charm never more evident than in the appreciation he has for everyone who turns out to hear him. He goes off mike for the final number, weaving his way through the audience, serenading us all. From a big trucking bear of a ZZ Top refugee, it’s a remarkably sweet way to end a gig. A regular visitor, he’s well worth catching up with. Highly, highly recommended.
Cowboy Junkies seem to have been around for years, but rarely tour – not to Scotland anyway. I was into them about ten years ago, then lost the thread, so I was really looking forward to reacquainting myself with them.
Pity. The band is great – you can hear some fantastic musicianship in there, and Margo Timmins has a gorgeous, sexy, powerful voice. The music is spot on too: they showcase a lot from their new 4-album set “The Nomad Series”, including some Vic Chestnutt covers like the lovely “See You Around”, while others like “Renmin Park” or “Late Night Radio” are fine songs. They have a really intimate sound, all woozy chilled out feedback and fuzz. The aesthetic is cosy with a seductive edge, emphasised by Timmins’ regularly refreshed herbal tea and the vase of tulips on a table she has by her side. It should be great, and would have been if it had been in Oran Mor or King Tut’s or even the O2 ABC.
But it isn’t. In fact, within two songs, I know I’m going to bail early. Kelvingrove has organ recitals every Sunday, and that huge parping monstrosity probably works brilliantly in the setting because it can assert itself like an artillery barrage. This closed, introverted intimacy can’t manage that; jings, the front row of the audience is about twenty five feet away from the stage. With a ceiling disappearing into the stratosphere and galleries sucking up sound from the central hall, the music just disappears, and the effect is of some morose, half-empty midwestern dance hall on a Friday afternoon with a down at heel band playing to the saddest people you could imagine. The bass is a muddy blarp, the mandolin a distant squeak. Their songs are heavy on lyrics, but even Timmins – who enunciates beautifully – can’t make herself understood.
Perhaps the Gallery wanted a piece of the Celtic Connections action; perhaps the organisers thought there’d be some novelty value in having a cult band in this setting. But it just doesn’t work. It’s a huge, huge pity. I heard enough to convince me that I should get some more of their new music – the Nomad Series is on vinyl, by gum! – and listen to it on my unfeasibly wonderful hi-fi to get a feeling for what they really sound like nowadays. However, after their rendition of their classic version of “Sweet Jane” – which is surely one of the greatest covers ever, and the one we’ve been waiting for – we pack it in for the night.
Things sound so much clearer in the car going home…
This is out of the Celtic Connections loop, but, after the success of Ane Brun’s gig at King Tut’s just over a year ago, I had to find out if all Norwegians were intent on demolishing Glasgow with sheer bloody volume. It appears they are, and it’s fantastic.
Rebekka Karijord packs as much sound on stage as she can, again filling the tiny venue with mammoth percussion; the beat is astonishing, especially on the really big, danceable numbers like “Save Yourself”, “Your Love” and “Use My Body While It’s Still Young“. These are epic songs, all of them driven relentlessly by fabulous drumming and a wash of ambience that, like Brun, soars high, high, high. She also does reflection beautifully – her own favourite, “Oh Brother”, or the hymnal “Prayer” or the keening “You Make Me Real” or her encore, the title track of her first album “The Noble Art of Letting Go”, are gorgeous.
Karijord herself is beautiful and sexy and mysterious, full of knowing smiles and genuine warmth. The harmonies she creates with her band – three young, charming, energetic guys – are fabulous, Karijord’s range rising higher and higher above them. She finishes the set with “Ode to What Was Lost” which, like “Brun’s “Undertow” is as sonically huge as a cathedral, jaw-dropping and goose-bump inducing. It’s the first of 2013′s wonderful musical experiences.
Really, this is one incredibly talented young woman who, with her excellent new album “We Become Ourselves”, really does deserve worldwide recognition. Of course, she’s from that Scandinavian wonky-pop tradition that sits just outside the mainstream, but I urge you; forget going with the flow, buy the album and listen to some of the finest music around.
While this, I am sure, will be amongst the best music I’ll discover this year, the gig itself won’t appear on the top ten list, largely because of the audience. It’s fairly sparsely attended but there are some real fans and many who are willing to immerse themselves in the experience. However, that experience is spoiled by others, including some chatty couples. The worst offenders, though, are a group of guys up the back who behave like adolescent chimpanzees, guffawing loudly and generally spoiling as many of the numbers as they can, despite shooshes and more than a few dirty looks. Comedy wooly hat guy; specky, wild-haired ugly guy – yes, you know it was you. Astonishingly, another member of the audience tells me that they are the friends and partners of one of the earlier support acts, both of which I missed.
So I don’t know if they were associated with Plum or with Loudon, but a word of advice, guys: if you want your friends to be booked to play with fabulous musicians like Rebekka Karijord in the future, show them and the audience that has come to hear them some respect and consideration; either that, or fuck off and be arseholes in the local Wetherspoons until the gig is over.
PS – one of the offending parties has chosen to reply to this – see below. I’m a little perplexed by the following attempts to justify his position:
(a) – the sound was too low? Then why weren’t you being quieter so you could hear it? The band was playing quietly – so you are incapable of adjusting your volume to compensate? Why should the artist have to play at a volume louder than they want in order to drown you out?
(b) Yes live music is about having fun. That fun is derived from listening to the live music. Chat about it between the songs. If you want to chat while music is playing, put a CD on and stay at home. There are some gigs – huge venues where the sound is ramped up – where your behaviour will go unnoticed; in a small, intimate venue with a small crowd and some quiet, reflective music, your behaviour can be catastrophic.
(c) You admit you were loud, but “not intentionally”? How can you be “unintentionally” loud and intrusive? Could it be that the word you’re looking for is “thoughtless”?
(d) you respected Rebekka Karijord? Then why not listen to her, and allow us to too? Does respect not entail paying attention when someone has rehearsed for weeks just to entertain you?
(e) The whole crowd? There were less than 100 people in the room. Your party seems to have consisted of about 8 or 9 people – almost a tenth of the audience. Six people commented to me about how upsetting you were – that’s a fairly high proportion too.
(f) I’m sorry I missed Plum, I’ve heard she did a really good set. I think she certainly should keep on playing gigs like this, and she should bring along people who support her. What those people who support her should do is have a little consideration for other gig goers and acts, out of respect for Plum and for the type of audience behaviour she would want. I did not say she should “watch who she brings to gigs” because, as she herself said, you weren’t “with” her. She is not responsible for your behaviour – you are. Or do you think she’s your mum?
(g) So you’ve never been challenged? Well, could it be that is because to do so would be to disturb the artist even more? Because an argument kicking off would make things worse? If you weren’t aware of the dissatisfaction many were expressing – including, I suspect, Rebekka Karjiord – then that just goes to show how self-centred you really are.
As for the insult – it was deliberate to provoke a response. It worked. So now you know how your behaviour affects many people, perhaps you’ll reflect on it. As for being ugly – I embrace my ugliness. Try it – it’s empowering.
I’ve written about this before; it astonishes me how self-centred some gig-goers can be, and it’s a pity that, more and more, I am seeing others – audience and artists – having to rebel against it. http://raymondsoltysek.wordpress.com/2012/01/07/the-modern-gig-goer-blessed-with-a-sense-of-entitlement/
I had begun writing a post about how flamenco guitarists are really sexy because no other man’s fingers can make a woman move like that: I’d also lined up a comment that Vicente Amigo is handsome enough to have stepped out of the Mediterranean episode of your girlfriend’s ongoing 50 Shades of Grey fantasy. However, that’s had to go, because for the second time in a few weeks, I’ve been to a concert that’s left me missing someone I love.
My dad would have been 100 years old tomorrow. In the 80s and early 90s, when I was just about mature enough to go on a night out with him but too immature to realise how precious that time would be, I took him to a few concerts. They were rare, but by gum we saw some crackers: Paul Tortelier and his daughter at the RSAMD; Rostropovich playing the Bach cello suites at the GRCH. Most of all, though, my dad loved the guitar.
I don’t know what kind of school education they had in Silesia in the 1920s, but it could make Curriculum for Excellence eat its heart out. My dad was multi-lingual, was taught chess at school and became a war-time army champion, and learned enough guitar to be a dab hand at it until Russian frostbite turned his fingers to claws and his knuckles to concrete. I think he always wanted me to learn to play, and made the mistake of assuming that because I could manage a tune on a flute I was actually really musical. He bought me a second-hand guitar in my teens, but my hands were too small and soft and I lacked the patience to practice, and so he used it himself, getting frustrated at his inoperative hands.
So he was a huge Julian Bream fan (he thought John Williams a bit flash) and we saw him twice; once, solo at the RSAMD, then, most wonderfully, playing Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez at the GRCH. I remember shooshing him when he got a little too carried away in the adagio; who the fuck doesn’t? I wish I hadn’t been such a prick, and had just joined him in a chorus of “We love you Julian, oh yes we do…”.
Within a dozen bars of Amigo coming on stage, solo, and launching into a dizzyingly brilliant flamenco piece, I wish so much my dad was sitting beside me. He would have been gobsmacked. I can see him now, leaning forward (a habit I’ve developed), concentrating himself totally, losing himself. I think he would have thought he’d just seen the one of the best guitarists ever: I know I do.
Amigo is some player. His brand of jazz-flamenco is fantastic, those Moorish elements that make flamenco truly multicultural echoed in a band that includes muezzin-like vocals from across the Med. He hasn’t updated his website for some time, so I can’t find the names of the band members, but they are all excellent. He has also been working with Celtic musicians on a project entitled “Tierra”, and the result is a persuasive fusion that hopefully will be recorded. However, surrounded by a dozen musicians, it’s always Amigo who dominates proceedings. It may be that his instrument is tweaked a little louder than anyone else’s, but it’s more down to the fact that whatever he does, it is twice as technically stunning as anyone else on stage. He starts at 9pm: I have to bail at 10.40 with no sign of him leaving the stage. Quantity and quality: how’s that for value for money?
I actually came to tick another fado star off my list: Carminho is the latest thing, and lovely she is too. Her voice is more fluid than many fadistas, with grace notes like oil, and she has a subtlety that some big belters certainly lack. She too has been working with a Celtic signer (Maeve… I lose the surname), and while Gaelic and the fado style don’t go together too well, certainly Carminho’s richness of voice complements the rhythms and melodies beautifully when they do it the Celtic way. It’s all precise and pitch perfect and perchink, and in many places gorgeous; however, she doesn’t move me the way some do. I don’t get the hairs rising on the back of my neck as I do when I listen to Ana Moura; nor do I get that overwhelming feeling of warmth and joy and bonhomie I feel when Ana Bacalhau struts her stuff. But I’m more than happy to blame the venue: as ever, the buttoned-up GRCH is no place to build relationships with a performer. I’m sure if I’d seen her live in the little Aqui del Rei in Faro on a boozy Friday evening, I’d be bowling off into the night in a daze, madly in love with yet another fadista.
My dad would have been too.
This is a bit of a bittersweet gig for me, so forgive a personal digression. The last time I saw Beth Orton was in March 2006, at the height of her success, at the O2 ABC. I was with my beautiful friend, Estelle Brisard; heavily pregnant at the time, her baby apparently had a ball, dancing and wriggling all evening. It was the last and one of the best of the many gigs we went to together.
A few months later, Estelle, one of the loveliest human beings I’ve ever met, was struck down by Adult Death Syndrome, leaving behind her new daughter, a devastated husband and family, and countless friends, like me, who loved her very much and have never recovered from the loss. The same month she died, Orton gave birth to her first child, which triggered a virtual six-year sabbatical to devote herself to motherhood. Now, she’s back with a tour with her husband, Sam Amidon, to promote her new album, “Sugaring Season” as if nothing had changed, and I truly wish it hadn’t.
Orton is a real star. She’s a fantastic vocalist, possessing a front parlour voice that is intimate and vulnerable, that fractured diction that feels like a trademark. Perhaps touring again has taken its toll – this is her penultimate gig – or perhaps she has a dicky throat, but it’s a little more fractured than sounds healthy; however, that isn’t a problem at all, is even a strength because it emphasises the fact that hers is the sound of a real person, warm flesh and warm blood, human and unmediated by auto-tuning, pre-recorded gimmickry.
It’s an acoustic set – she’ll be back in April with a band – and it’s a great way to end the year. Most of the gig is given over to the new album, and there are some real stand-outs. “Magpie” is lovely, with a characteristic Orton wonky-melody that can’t be pinned down. “The Poison Tree” – a Blake poem set to music – is memorable, too, and “Call Me the Breeze” provides an opportunity for some lovely harmonies with Amidon. Then, in the mix, she tosses in an oldie, like “She Cries Your Name”.
However, the real barnstormers for me come very early in the set. “The Last Leaves of Autumn” is unutterably beautiful, with that heavy keyboard reminiscent of Portishead or her days with William Orbit. Two songs later, she gets a rapturous reaction to an acoustic version of “Stolen Car” that brings more than ever before the bile and the bitterness of the lyrics to the fore, whacking the listener between the eyes like a baseball bat in a way that the sublimely cool album version doesn’t quite manage to. Fuck, she looks furious as she sings it:
“Oh, yeah, you stand
For every known abuse that I’ve ever seen my way through
Don’t I wish I knew better by now?
Well I think I’m starting to
When every lie speaks the language of love
And never held the meaning I was thinking of
And I’ve lost the line between right or wrong
I just want to find the place where I belong”
It’s an absolute show-stopper that comes just a bit too early, and is one of the best performances of a single song I’ve heard this year. Stunning stuff.
She encores some old classics, including “Central Reservation”, and she finishes with “I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine“, the saddest singalong in the universe. Croaks and all, she sings it quite beautifully, as does the audience. It’s a gorgeous song about loss and longing, and, just for a moment, I feel more than a little bit haunted.
Welcome back, Beth.
Ingrid Michaelson’s 2009 album “Everybody” was a gem, with catchy, brainy numbers like “Soldier” vying with more meditative tracks like “Are We There Yet?”, topped off with my favourite, the quite lovely “Maybe“. It’s a delicate album that is impeccably produced, foregrounding Michaelson’s gorgeous, rich voice. I like it, very much indeed. And Michaelson herself – pretty but most definitely on the slightly geeky side – seems like an honest, hard-working musician with integrity, despite her tracks being hugely friendly for the TV generation (Grey’s Anatomy, The Vampire Diaries) and for advertising (Google Chrome amongst others). Most horrendous of all, plastic-satanic, auto-tuned anti-singer Cheryl Cole pinched “Parachute“; Michaelson’s recording is much, much better because she can actually hold a tune, though, to be honest, it’s not a great song, I think. Although I had a ticket, I missed her last visit to Glasgow – a woman was involved, if I remember correctly – but I was determined not to miss her this time round.
This is a minimalist set up, Michaelson on ukulele accompanied by Bess Rodgers and Allie Moss on acoustic guitars. No drums, just handheld percussion, and occasional forays with an electric piano and bass. Her songs therefore sound very different from their recorded versions, but that’s no bad thing; pared down and rearranged, this is a lovely gig that is truly musical.
“Maybe” and ” Soldier” are both fine sing-alongs; in fact, there’s an awful lot of singing along, and Michaelson seems genuinely pleased at the warmth of the audience. It’s a much younger crowd than I expected. At one point, I find myself marooned in a sea of stunning young women; I feel like making a generic old man apology for Jimmy Savile and retiring to the back of the room. And judging by the phalanx of enthusiastic Asian girls in front of me – all holding their iPhones in the air to record the gig, making it seem as if I’m watching the whole event through a massive bank of Lilliputian video screens – she also seems to be big in Japan. The problem with Oran Mor, though, is that the audience have a huge bar area at the back and seating set back from the dance floor which encourages people to talk, and they do loudly for a while until they finally settle down. Having said that, though, the bulk of the audience are perfectly behaved and go bananas at the end of each song.
Michaelson is easily the most effortlessly personable singer I’ve seen this year, Ana Bacalhau of Deolinda excepted. She’s funny and witty and capable of swearing like a Glasgow trooper (soldiers / troopers/ battles / wars are a recurring theme in her music). She also has a beautiful voice, complimented gorgeously by Rodgers and Moss. There are some real stand outs, such as “The Chain“, which grows massively during the lovely three voice round that ends the song. Tracks from her new album, “Human Again”, are great too.
Michaelson complains that her music is often described as “cute”, and while most of those songs – “Be OK”, “Everybody” – are smashing wee numbers, there are a couple that tip into schmaltz: she tells a lovely, funny story of snuggling a girl who was a complete stranger on a train in the depths of winter as a prelude to “Blood Brothers“, a song that doesn’t quite do it for me, I think because of the fractured chorus and the superficiality of the image. She says she much prefers to think of herself as dark and edgy, and despite the fact that she’s a lovely young woman who has the captivating habit of always smiling while she’s singing, I do too. That’s why I think the most impressive moment of the night is Michaelson solo on the piano singing the fantastic ”Ghost“, a real spine-tingler that is much more effective raw like this than washed with violins as it is on the new album; great too is the gorgeous, atmospheric “Men of Snow”. Both are lyrically quite startling.
So all in all a really good gig from a charming and talented musician I’d recommend any day of the week. Support act Gavin James from Dublin joins the trio onstage for a sweet rendition of the cutest and cheesiest of her songs, “You and I“; it’s a nice way to finish, and James is a damn sight better than the vast majority of the acoustic folkie-rock David Gray clones that music has been afflicted with for the last fifteen years.
Definitely a talented young woman worth seeing: if she’s coming to a town near you, do so. That’s an order.