A respectably sized crowd turns up this time to give Astrid Williamson something approaching the reception she deserves. Supporting Kathryn Williams, she’s at the piano again, but she’s brought a guitar to widen her set list and assures us she’s practised since the Oran Mor gig back in January – though there was absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, being on the road as part of a tour seems to have allowed her to polish up some of her very best gems.
Her voice is in cracking form, easily driving more upbeat numbers like “Shhh…” or “Hozanna”, but the gentler songs really shine: “Only Heaven Knows” the unlisted track at the end of “Day of the Lone Wolf” album, is wistful and brooding and perfect, as is the beautiful “Eve” from her latest album, “Here Come the Vikings”. Both songs show just how fine a piano player she is, but she’s great on the guitar too; the lovely, light “Superman” (“Oh how I wish / You would be my Superman”) has most of the males in the audience seriously considering wearing their underpants outside their trousers just to oblige.
Her music has been a big part of my soundtrack over the last six years, and I’ve never really been able to pin down which of her songs I’d take to my Desert Island. However, she finishes with “This is how it’s done here”, I think the first time I’ve heard it live, and that settles it. For me, it’s a song about the utter improbability and unexpectedness of love, and the inevitable, delicious pain that lies in the path you have to take to negotiate it. “Love,” she sings, “is a curious land / where you can never be a native or stake your claim”, a sentiment that I should have had tattooed on my heart years ago. The emotion of the refrain is capable of dismantling a listener:“I’m sorry that I came without warning, And I’m sorry that I led you astray. I would never harm a breath in your body, But there’s nothing much left to say; This is how it’s done here.”
It is just stunning.
Kathryn Williams is new to me, but the audience is knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Both of her – she’s heavily pregnant – put on a lovely performance full of cheeky lyrics and woozy melodies. The band is great, throwing everything from hurdy-gurdies to vibraphones into the mix. The set concentrates on her new album, and songs like “50 White Lines”, “Wanting and Waiting” and “Just Leave” are real stand outs. She’s sweet and perhaps a little eccentric and, despite getting irritated by sound problems from time to time, builds real warmth with the audience. A good show.
Honourable mention to local singer, Emma Jane, who opens the evening with a short set. The girl has a great voice – a bit like Carol Laula with the volume turned down a bit – and she writes fine songs; her opening number has a bitter lyric about Glasgow sectarianism. Highlight, though, is a cover of “Ain’t no sunshine…”, delivered with real grace. Her guitarist, Iain McKinnon, is pretty damned good too. She’s just as talented as other young singers who get much more attention – such as Lisa Mitchell, who I saw last month – so I hope she has the success she deserves.
There’s no accounting for taste. While I’m sure Sandi Thom’s recent Celtic Connections gig would have drawn a respectable crowd, three men and a dog turn up to see the wonderful Astrid Williamson support Joe Pernice.
Formerly the lead singer of Goya Dress, she’s just released her fourth solo album, “Here Come the Vikings”, and this is a rare visit to Glasgow – the last time I saw her here was in support of Michael Bolton (rest assured, I didn’t stay for his part of the concert!) in 2007. Since then, she’s been having long overdue success in the States, and it seems to be doing her good: she’s more beautiful than ever, she’s relaxed and charming and her voice is in great form. She’s at the piano tonight, which limits the repertoire a little; she apologises for turning down my requests for songs that rely on a band, but I forgive her since she makes up for it with “True Romance”, one of the sultriest songs I’ve ever heard (“Think of this, all my tangled hair across your hips…”).
She also manages a fantastic version of “Glorious” from her Goya Dress days, and some great new numbers (I can’t remember ever hearing Charlie Chaplin name-checked in a song before). Apparently she has a load of piano-driven songs she doesn’t know what to do with: I’d suggest a piano-driven album, then.
She says it’s great to be back in Glasgow: that’s very gracious of her given she’s treated with such disinterest by a Glasgow public who obviously don’t care much for perfection. It’s just not fair.
Headliner Joe Pernice has a sweet voice and a wicked way with lyrics: this time it’s a name-check for Leni Riefenstahl, and a line like “I’d kiss your ass just to kiss your ass again” deserves some kind of an award. He’s obviously hugely talented – he’s just published his first novel – but there’s a sameness about the performance that has me deciding on an early night. Astrid’s in the CD player on the way home.
Okay, I’m a bloke, so it’s time for an end of year lists. I know, really dull, but it’s my blog!
Favourite concert 1: James McMurtry, Oran Mor, January.
McMurtry is one of the great chroniclers of the blue collar Midwest. Steeped in rage against heartless capitalism and the vicious slaughter of the dirt poor in war, his songs are heartbreaking. I defy anyone to listen to “Hurricane Party”, “Ruby and Carlos” or “Holiday” and not burn for the disadvantaged who suffer the carnage caused by corporate America. Scathing poetry of destitution, wrapped up in beautiful music. McMurtry has a few of his backing band with him: it’s ironic that they are called “The Heartless Bastards”, because you’ll never hear music with more heart anywhere.
Favourite concert 2: Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni ba at Queen’s Hall, April.
The ngoni looks like a beaten up cricket bat with two bits of fishing line tied along its length, but in the hands of these guys, it produces the most exciting music I’ve ever heard. Breathtaking virtuosity and energy in abundance, along with the delights of Kouyate’s wife Amy Sacko on lead vocals. The finest desert blues available.
Favourite one-off song: Joan as Police Woman, “Keeper of the Flame”, Oran Mor, October.
See my earlier blog review. The final song of the night was the most beautifully sung eight minutes I’ve ever heard. I walked out into the night in a daze.
Best vocal performance: Mor Karbasi, The Voodoo Rooms, June.
Karbasi is a 23-year old Israeli singer with a 2000-year old soul. Accompanied by her partner Joe Taylor, percussionist Andres Ticino and fantastic guitarist Jorge Bravo, her renditions of Sephardic and Ladino songs are gorgeous. Who cares if (a) you don’t understand them and (b) you know they’re all about menfolk going fishing anyway?
Most eccentric concert: Richard Thompson, 1000 years of popular music, Concert Hall, January.
Trust Thompson to take an invitation from Playboy in 1999 to nominate his favourite ten songs of the “past millennium” literally. Of course, they weren’t interested at all in the last 1000 years, and wanted the predictable re-run of The Beatles and Michael Jackson numbers: so when Thompson’s list of Olde English and Victorian music hall masterpieces was rejected, he beefed up the repertoire and has been taking it on intermittent tour for the last few years. Accompanied by the excellent Judith Owen and Debra Dobkin, it’s great to hear catchy old numbers like “Summer is a-cumin in” again, as well as the grizzled old git doing Britney’s “Oops, I did it again”. Great fun. Good for him.
Most sickeningly youthful performance: The Whispertown 2000, The Captain’s Rest, October.
This young LA foursome’s latest album, “Swim”, is a fantastic, scuzzy, swing-hop-skiffle clatter, and the performance is similarly and joyfully shambolic. Songs don’t finish: they rattle to a hirple before picking up and bashing off into another tune. Even at my age, I’m afraid I have to be very rude about Morgan Nagler, the lead singer. She’s the kind of girl you imagine drinking lemonade on her front stoop, and if she invites you into the secret places in her cool dark house, you just know you’re going to come out an hour later happy, dazed and much, much wiser. A smashing wee band.
“Storia, Storia” by Mayra Andrade. Anything following up “Navega” was going to be welcome, but “Storia, Storia” is fantastic. Cool and elegant Cape Verdean grooves from possibly the most beautiful young woman in music today.
“Here Come the Vikings” by Astrid Williamson.
Again, a long awaited follow up, this time to “Day of the Lone Wolf”. Williamson, from Shetland, is at her best with slow, lust-laden trip-hop, and “How You Take My Breath Away” and “Slake” are among her best. Just gorgeous. The music is too.
“The Hollow Way” by Genevieve Maynard and the Tallboys.
A huge surprise, downloaded on the off-chance from e-music. Great lyrics and cracking tunes, every one memorable: the bookends of the album, “Ripped” and “Take Me Home”, are stunning. Aussie Maynard has a brilliant voice, and I’ll be looking out for more.
“Written in Chalk” by Buddy and Julie Miller
Americana at its finest. Rattling good tunes and a great contrast between the guttural Buddy and the more ethereal Julie. On vinyl, this is a cracking production, as good as “Raising Sands” by Robert Plant (who guests on this album) and Alison Krauss, one of my favourite albums of the decade.
Oh, and I think Lady Gaga’s the saviour of pop music too!