It’s fair to say that I can count the number of times I’ve been to Bethnal Green on one hand. London’s just like that, there are so many competing enclaves, it’s doubtful that it’s either possible or desirable to cover them all. That said the Gallery Café has some obvious, live-circuit-potential, even if the table arrangement doesn’t make for the most immediately comfortable gig setting, the dais at the far end is a decent size. It transpires the sound is good too and the venue is small enough to demand that people pay attention and keep quiet during performances.
Mind you, the Hackney environs are even farther out of Amy’s natural orbit. The Edinburgh native is none the less relaxed, taking advantage of the bank holiday to grab an extra day or two in London and as it transpires, is staying not far away with her sister. She’s charming with a quiet burr – not mousy quiet, but more thoughtful, attentive, unfussy, as we chat pre-gig. She also strikes me as quite slight to wield a double bass, yet is classically trained on the instrument, offering lessons from her website and if you listen to the album, is clearly a skilled player. We have a chuckle about the pains of lugging the big bass around, but then that’s only one of the many she plays and this evening it’s Amy’s more portable acoustic guitar skills that feature.
As Ben from Mariner’s Children remarked recently playing a ‘launch’ sounds a bit more grand and involved than just a gig. In this case, however it seems more about releasing these songs into the world. There is no attendant hoo-ha or pushiness. Amy simply says, “We are going to play the album [Cycles Of Life] mostly in order but missing out the two songs that feature the piano as we don’t have one here.”
At Folk Radio UK we like the album very much and you can read Neil McFadyen’s review here. He describes the opening, title track as, “tranquil yet attention grabbing…” That seems to hit the nail on the head, with the strings adding lush orchestration to the recording. While there is no string section here tonight, Fiona Rutherford’s harp fills the harmonic space. Stuart Clark’s cajon and percussion and Lawrie McMillan’s acoustic bass guitar are the rhythmic bedrock and Lisa Rigby adds some gorgeous harmonies and occasional acoustic guitar embellishment.
A couple of thoughts keep circling as I search for the right way to describe Amy’s music, ‘quietly compelling’ and ‘fragile beauty.’ It’s that ‘q’ word again, but this is more like the lull in the storm or the calm in the eye of the hurricane. There is undoubtedly some emotional turbulence in the forecast as Amy sings, “I’d rather face the rain than anaesthetize the pain…”
Perhaps the quiet is the sense of quiet introspection that I find when listening to Amy and I mean that in the best way. When transported by music it’s just about my favourite place to be, a place where the senses become acutely tuned to the emotional ebb and flow of the music and lyrics.
Those senses do not deceive and there are indeed storm clouds on the horizons of some of theses songs – Crack In The World in particular, as Amy informs us “I wrote this one day when I was feeling a bit strange,” there’s the anger of Ivory Tower, or the fear of Wild Animals – but then there is sunshine too. Navigating offers us, “I see the light at the end of the tunnel,” while Song To Myself suggests that Amy is quite able to take care of herself. Perhaps most pertinent is Everything Is Going To Be Alright, as Amy sings, “A voice floats on the airwaves in a song, separate from earthly ties, the right and wrong, Like an angel from the heavens, messenger divine…”
Whilst the song clearly isn’t Amy blowing her own trumpet another nail has been struck. I find myself thinking of the ethereal quality of some of these songs, an otherworldliness. They are not fragile, but delicate, with the fineness of quality implicit in that. That delicacy is there in her voice too in the soft tremolo and the fine weft of melody. It’s even more apparent as she takes the final song, Fragile From The Storm, solo with just her own acoustic guitar accompaniment. It’s one of two new songs that Amy adds to the end of the set by way of an encore, the launch of the album, after all, has happened as promised.
It’s tempting to think that the songs like seeds blown from a dandelion clock will settle in the hearts and minds of those present and thus make their way into the east London night, as the gig finishes and quietness eventually descends onto the Gallery Café. In individual moments the seeds of the songs will take root and bloom, each a vivid herald of a quietly compelling songwriter and a special night.
Live Review by: Simon Holland
Cycles of Life is released on Linn Records on April 15th.