Review of Beth Orton at Manchester Cathedral From serendipity3864.wordpress.com
Beth Orton 2
In the reverent and historical womb of Manchester Cathedral, Beth Orton’s irrelevant in-between banter gave a grounded and personable quality to her overall performance; displaying the kind of bittersweet songs that made her a success in the mid-nineties. A recognition of an album anniversary- 1999’sCentral Reservation- this middle gig of three sees Beth playing the album in its (almost) entirety. After a six year gap between 2006’s Comfort of Strangersand 2012′s Sugaring Season, it did seem as if Beth had quit music for good, or the music had quit her. Raising a child and getting married apparently took precedence, but now, in 2014, it’s so good to have her back.
After a rather shocking conversation with a media type lady outside the Mitre pub (Rolf Harris potentially won’t be the most shocking celebrity revelation you’ll hear this year), I adjourned to the cool interior of the cathedral. A wonderful venue, and one Orton herself seemed to appreciate; “this is my favourite venue on the tour”. She was backed by her band, which also includes husband Sam Amidon (much stripped down from the one I saw at Glastonbury in ’99, when Central Reservation was new),
The set started with no fuss or fanfare; straight into the familiar sound of ‘Stolen Car’. Although Beth’s vocals sound slightly more strained than in past years, the slightly ragged quality suits the songs of love and loss and her overall voice is as distinctive and warm as ever. It’s also clear that her guitar playing, which was never anything but good, has now developed into a more fluid and natural engagement with her instrument; it’s as unique and personal as her voice. Although the remit to play all of Central Reservation isn’t exactly abandoned (practically all the tracks are there), Beth decided to mix up the running order with performances of other songs, old and new. The appearance of ‘She cries your name’ and ‘Galaxy of emptiness’ in the set is therefore not surprising, and very welcome, but far more of interest were newer tracks like ‘Mystery’, which I’d never heard live before. Her pedestrian version of the album’s title track quickly gives way to a loop-enhanced rendition which calls to mind the many remixes of the track, and her early recordings with The Chemical Brothers. It was one of my gig highlights and one of the few times the band really go up-tempo and almost rock out. Not that rocking out is why I’ve come here. For the most part I get exactly what I wanted, which is some beautifully observed and fractured lyrics delivered emotively by the woman who wrote them, with a slower, engaging melancholy sound. Added to the fact that we were all in such a gorgeous venue, with such infectious atmosphere, this concert really delivered, Even Beth seemed genuinely pleased and happy with the results. Her encore, including ‘Feel to Believe’ is worth a mention, but it was her earlier rendition of ‘Pass in Time’, the album’s centrepiece, which struck me in the heart with bittersweet yearning. Even without the late Terry Callier sharing vocals, Beth’s solo version still brought a lump to my throat. Some music can take life’s pain and give it back to you; seemingly filling a hole you didn’t realise was there. It was the emotive highlight of a special evening.
Awkward, scatty, irreverent and slightly goofy: if I was a female folk singer I would probably be Beth Orton, and that’d be enough reason for me to like her, but on the music alone it’s not difficult to feel something extremely positive. It had been a while, but on the strength of tonight I can’t wait to see Beth again. Let’s hope it’s not as long until the next time.
Clive K Hammond's picture By Clive K Hammond on 15 Jul 2014
Atmospheres in church are idyllic. Within these towering emporiums - laced with extravagant windows, provocative in design and warped in message – the temper often created cannot be matched. For many the idea of seeing your band in a sacred space might be slightly contradictory – let’s not forget the connotations which saddle most ‘popular’ music contain the devil, sex and drugs so hardly hot topics for a reverend to preach about on a Sunday – however, moving them from their normal beer soaked stage and into the colourful realms of an intimate arena it can be astonishing how much the performer changes. And on Wednesday 2 July, Beth Orton became the latest songstress to take on the hallowed turf that is Manchester Cathedral.
Manchester’s prime sanctuary moulds the ability to appear immense in size, but bijou in terms of warmth. It’s surrounding walls so tall, when any performer plays the true test is to use these barricades to power out any vocal melody, simmering string arrangement or meandering piano motif. Easier said than done.
Yorkshire folk guitarist David Thomas Broughton offered up a soothing half hour set to allow the busy crowd time to adjust to the vastness presented from the venue – albeit suffering from some particularly suspect sound tech work.
As a performer, Orton is perhaps best well known for her folktronica album ‘Trailer Park’ – nominated for 1996’s Mercury Award – her raw lyrics and vehement voice. But 15 years ago, the Norfolk born songwriter released ‘Central Reservation ’ – an album which challenged the stylings of folk, jazz and dance - and in celebration of this anniversary, the evening centred itself on the 12 track release. So taking into consideration the venue, a match made in heaven.
Performing in front of the redly lit altar and backed by her five piece ensemble – including her multi-instrumentalist American partner Sam Amidon – the evening did not feel like a concert, but a true electric spectacle. Tracks such as the quaffing, tranquil ‘Call Me the Breeze’ and the energised ‘Shopping Trolley’ laid down a loose mood, before ‘Couldn’t Cause Me Harm’ continued the meditative glow. With Amidon adding floating violin refrains and the rest of the ensemble supporting Orton with an array of delicate grooves, the songwriter continued to play out the 1999 album in full.
Unlike many artists, Orton did not play ‘Central Reservation’ regimentally track by track. Under normal circumstances the encore was saved for fans favourites, but given her individual approach, she snuck in the empowering ‘She Cries Your Name’, after another glance back with ‘So Much More’.
With the setting for her return to Manchester pristine, the technological failings that interrupted Broughton firstly appeared once again and cast the only moments of frustration. Orton’s voice wasn’t allowed to wail as much as we would have like and the restricted nature to which her vocals were cast out left some vexed.
And in the heat of the moment, Orton seemed it too as she rightly slammed the talkative bar staff and audience, ordering them to simmer down as clinking glass reverberated throughout the room. For what it’s worth, Orton is an incredible performer. Honest, endearing, yet fierce. Thankfully for Manchester, they experienced all of the above.