Review by Faye Smith
16/10/13 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London
Upon entering the Empire, it was clear that there weren’t very many people in the audience. I, myself, arrived a tad late due to (as ever) traffic problems. The first support act was playing: Rachael Dadd. She was a sweet and charming young lady whose soft voice floated into the audience of the O2. Her folk music was very chilled, which I could have listened to all day in all honesty. Primarily using a ukulele, the acoustic set was a pleasure to watch, and I wish that more people had arrived on time to see it. The originality of this act didn’t stop at the voice. Rachael and her band used a clarinet, electric guitar, tambourine, a box of matches, and… walkie talkies?! That’s correct. The piercing distortion of the walkie talkies blended well with the gentle voices of Rachael and her female band member. The harmonising between the two women was beautiful, especially during In The Morning and Window. Window was my favourite song of the entire set. It is a beautiful, wonderful song. This is the song that she wrote whilst she was pregnant. It is a song about responsibility, but so much more than that too. It is a song about love and waiting for something to cherish.
The next artist to come on stage after a few weird chords of spooky soundtrack between acts was the comedic musician Chris T-T, a singer-songwriter from Brighton. His music is political, hilarious, and upbeat. However, some of his creations are simple love songs which he played on piano. On his electric guitar, Chris T-T belted out vocals to A Beaten Drum – a brand new song – The Bear, and Elephant in the Room. These songs were a little bit of homage to his rock nature, although he admits that his album is a lot rockier than his live versions. With political humour in each of these, his passion is evident: to share his point of view with the world. The Bear is blunt and honest, with a lot of swearing. He tells the story of Radio 1 playing the original instead of the demo without profanities and the amusement it gave. It is also a feel good song with lyrics “Don’t fuck with the people”, as is Elephant in the Room which has a positive attitude: “we can still win”. Although, Chris T-T is blatantly witty, some of his set did demonstrate that he can be a serious man and an emotional one too. Gulls was a duet with the star of the show, Emily Barker which was soft, melodic and they harmonised extremely well. The closing song, Paperback Karma Sutra, was a lovely ballad yet still had the humour that the audience loved.
However, it was Tall Woman, played on the piano that left the audience feeling the raw emotion of the lyrics and the music. It was heartbreaking. Tall Woman is a song about Alzheimer’s, which was written by a heartbroken man, about his mother. In his musical musings, Chris T-T decided to solely sing Acapella and other A. A. Milne poems which had comedic value, made the audience laugh and was a nice little addition to the set.
Here comes Emily Barker… and a load of other people aka the incredibly talented band that she plays with: The Red Clay Halo. This is no ordinary band that just has the typical guitar and drums. It does have that, alongside a few special extras that I haven’t seen live before: a violin, a cello, a flute, a banjo and an accordion. The Red Clay Halo was incredible throughout the performance. Each musician played their piece with passion, love and commitment to the song and to Emily. Emily herself was a wonderful artist to watch. Her music is heart-warming as it is soul lifting as it is feel good. The ballads of the set were beautiful. The harmonies between Emily and The Red Clay Halo were stunning especially during Ropes, Letters, and the title song – and (first) finale – Dear River. Ropes was played acoustically which built up to a grand finale with all the instruments playing. Letters is a personal song that Emily wrote about her Dutch grandfather who lived in exile during the WWII. It is about her home and her heritage. It is a love story dedicated to a special man and as the music builds up, the dedication and passion of the song is clear to everyone in the room. Dear River is a love letter to the river where she grew up called Blackwood. The song opens with powerful vocals only before the instruments kick in. It is about home which everyone can relate to. Pause was another ballad. However, there was only the sound of The Red Clay Halo and Emily singing in a sleeping harmony.
Alongside the ballads, were the foot-stomping, country songs such as A Spade Full Of Ground, Fields of Jean and Emily’s rendition of Aretha Franklin’s Do Right Woman. A Spade Full Of Ground is a little bit of an Australian history lesson as it is about the Aborigine people, about how far someone would go to get something. The lighting for this was the colour red which – going into my old media and film classes – signifies danger, maybe even the blood spill of the Aborigines. The violin and cello feature in this particular song evoking sadness and anger. Fields of Jean invited a guest from the audience onto stage, Will Howard, who sang a duet with Emily Barker. In this song, The Red Clay Halo went crazy with their instruments as they let go and danced around playing their music.
Do Right Woman with a country twist was a great end to the show which had strong belters, funny anecdotes – including a Coffee Song – foot-stomping, silent moments, moments to think about, and a refreshing look on music. Continuing her tour, Emily Barker will be on tour until late November. Go to her website www.emilybarker.com to find out more about tickets and shows!