Just a week into a 28-date UK tour, Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo rolled into town and proceeded to tear the roof off a packed house at London’s O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire. This was their biggest ever headlining show and from the opening notes of Dear River to the closing harmonies of the third encore, it was clear that this was a band who weren’t about to take any prisoners.
The 80-minute set had all the musical variety you could wish for, from Emily’s solo rendition of Little Deaths to the rockiest versions of Ghost Narrative and Everywhen that I’ve ever heard. And while turning everything up to 11 might be a new experience, the dynamic range and trademark four-part vocal harmonies were still very much in evidence throughout a set that was as much an audio CV as it was a statement of intent.
The set list included songs from all four albums, the lion’s share naturally going to the current Dear River but older favourites such as Disappear, Ropes and Pause (the theme to the BBC’s crime drama TV series ‘The Shadow Line’) were all present and correct, along with Emily’s solo acoustic version of Nostalgia (the band’s other TV law-and-disorder drama soundtrack, from the BBC’s ‘Wallander’ series) also making a welcome appearance.
The icing on the evening’s delicious musical cake was provided by two carefully chosen covers: an almost country version of Aretha Franklin’s Do Right Woman, Do Right Man and Emily’s stunning a capella reworking of The Java Jive (The Ink Spots 1940 paean to one of humanity’s greatest inventions, a pot of freshly-brewed coffee). Special mention must go to a rip-roaring version of the band’s own Fields Of June featuring guest singer Will Howard reprising the male vocal part previously played by Dom Coyote and, latterly, Frank Turner.
The Red Clay Halo – Anna Jenkins (violin, viola), Jo Silverston (cello, electric bass) and Gill Sandell (accordion, flute, keyboards) – augmented by Nat Butler (drums) and Ted Barnes (guitars, banjo, mandolin) were sounding stronger than ever; Jo and Anna’s musical interplay and Gill’s remarkable skills as a multi-instrumentalist have always been an integral part of the overall sound and feel of the music and we were reminded of that throughout.
Support was provided by Rachael Dadd, whose beautiful voice, intelligent songs and ability to transform a huge venue into an intimate space mark her out as a singular talent. She was followed by Chris T-T, a man for whom the term “singer/songwriter” seems wholly inadequate given the range and depth of his material; this is especially evident on his new album The Bear, from which much of his set was drawn (including a guest appearance on Gulls by his glamorous assistant, one Emily Barker) – although, to be a contrary Mary, Tall Woman from his 2010 album Love Is Not Rescue was a definite highlight for me.
This was an electrifying evening all round; Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo is clearly firing on all cylinders and if you get the chance to see the band on their current tour you should grab it with both hands. The musical cognoscenti have been predicting big things for them for quite a while now – and it looks like things are, at last, coming together for them.
Review by: Helen Greogory
A Spadeful of Ground
The Java Jive (Emily a capella)
Little Deaths (Emily solo)
In The Winter I Returned
Fields of June (featuring guest singer Will Howard)
Do Right Woman, Do Right Man
Keep up with their tour dates here:
L-R in the photo: Anna Jenkins, Jo Silverston, Emily Barker, Gill Sandell (photo by Red)