Saturday, 26 February 2011

Amy Macdonald

Corn Exchange, Cambridge, 25 October 2010

“Most people hate their jobs – I love mine!” says Amy Macdonald, looking out into a mosh-pit of wage-slaves on a Monday night. Coming from anyone else this could sound a tad supercilious, but Amy Macdonald, a straight-talking Glaswegian, is doing what she loves and her enthusiasm is infectious.

She’s wholesome, but with rock’n’roll attitude. I can’t imagine her popping pills in her dressing room – she’s so together. Helped along by a very tight band, her show is professional and polished but, at the same time, enormous fun. Polite to a tee, she’s complimentary about Cambridge and even thanks the guitar tech who dashes onstage between every number for keeping her strung and tuned.

One song, ‘Footballer’s Wife’, shows her distaste for reality TV and instant celebrity. She introduces it with a little homily about the importance of hard work. At just 23, with a big-selling debut album behind her and a European stadium tour in prospect, she’s proud to have got where she is by her own efforts, not somebody else’s.

She recalls performing ‘This Pretty Face’ on Swiss TV in the middle of a beauty pageant. Macdonald couldn’t keep a straight face, because the song is saying the exact opposite: never judge by appearances.

For those of us who discovered her through two irresistibly catchy singles, ‘Mr Rock & Roll’ and ‘This Is The Life’, there’s more of the same: the chance for a big singalong on new songs like ‘Don’t Tell Me That It’s Over’ and ‘Love Love’. With their expansive choruses, these are typical Macdonald territory. After all that, the main set ends reflectively with ‘What Happiness Means To Me’. Lured back for encores, she rounds off the night with a tempestuous version of ‘Let’s Start A Band’.

Support comes from The Roads, a London-based quartet, all sisters. Enjoyable, if somewhat too demure for Macdonald’s audience.

[Photo taken at the event by Jean-Luc Benazet. Used with permission.]

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Richard Thompson OBE

Fresh from curating the Meltdown Festival in London last year, Richard Thompson delivered an album of entirely new songs. Sometimes, when an artist is as prolific as Thompson, the quality threshold may drop, so it is a relief and a pleasure to report that Dream Attic is another masterclass in songwriting.

For years now, this Englishman abroad has been mining a rich seam. Californian exile seems only to have sharpened his nostalgia. Thompson’s London boyhood may bulk less large here than on the previous two albums but, with every carefully placed rhyme, his songs breathe history, be it personal or public.

As a godfather of folk-rock, he’s been around long enough to witness a revival of the revival. The Scottish reels of his ancestry underlie ‘Here Comes Geordie’. ‘Sidney Wells’, a modern murder ballad building to a blistering guitar solo, reincarnates the spirit of ‘Matty Groves’. Never the cheeriest soul, as he enters his sixties Thompson is clearly troubled by intimations of mortality: ‘A Brother Slips Away’ is an elegy for all those contemporaries who have ‘crossed over to that distant shore’. Then, just when you’re ready to slit your wrists, he rocks it up with a number like ‘Bad Again’.

Recorded live with his band to give it immediacy, Dream Attic is vintage work from one of Britain’s finest. Recently, there was a chance to relive that thrill when he toured the album in the UK. I caught his show at the Royal Festival Hall last week. His band is indeed awesome, distinguished by multi-instrumentalist Pete Zorn and Michael Jerome, a drummer who can switch styles at the drop of a (hi-)hat. In the first set they ran through some highlights from the new album. After the interval, we had a selection of what Thompson, self-deprecating as ever, called his “greatest hits”, among them

‘The Angels Took My Racehorse Away’
‘Take Care The Road You Choose’
‘Can’t Win’
‘One Door Opens’
‘Al Bowlly’s In Heaven’
‘I’ll Never Give It Up’
‘Wall Of Death’

The second set finished with a tumultuous ‘Tear Stained Letter’, the band now joined by all the guests who’d contributed during the evening: not just the excellent Christine Collister and Judith Owen but also several members of Thompson’s family – Zak Hobbs (grandson), Pauline (wife of eldest son Jesse) and Kamila Thompson (his younger daughter).

The encores included a blistering version of ‘I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight’. Finally, exchanging electric guitar for acoustic, Thompson came out alone with Kami for ‘A Heart Needs A Home’. Her mum made that one famous and I’m sure Linda would be proud of her. A poignant end to a high-spirited evening.

Part of the above was first published in R2 (Rock’n’Reel).