sun 21/07/2024

Camille, Hackney Empire | reviews, news & interviews

Camille, Hackney Empire

Camille, Hackney Empire

The French singer's latest show was perfectly suited to this old theatre

Camille smiles at the thought of haunting the Hackney Empire for an evening

It’s a rare but delightful thing when a venue and an artist prove perfect partners for each other, as was the case last night with young French singer Camille and old English music-hall theatre the Hackney Empire.

From up in the cosy darkness of the circle, it was clear from the moment that a ghost-like Camille stepped onto the sepia-lit stage to whisper/sing “Aujourd’hui” that there was something going on that was both steeped in vaudevillian tradition and wholly 21st century.

But of course Camille has always relished attention-grabbing theatrics. When I first saw her live at the Jazz Café in 2006, she put on a show in which one moment she was creating a whole percussion section by burping, tapping and slapping different parts of her body, and the next she was pinching a bottle of booze from the bar before launching into a raucous cover of the Dead Kennedy’s “Too Drunk to Fuck”. However, on her latest album Ilo Veyou she seems more interested in the space between the notes and the emotive power of subtle, understated textures.

Her three-piece band came across like a more genteel, elegant version of the kind of outfit Tom Waits likes to work with: a double-bass player who uses an old suitcase as a kick drum; a pianist/guitarist who also played a mean set of wine glasses, and a violist who was as effective when plucking out muted, hypnotic riffs as she is when bowing more traditionally melodic parts. Fortunately all three were also adept at unselfconsciously making all those weird vocal sounds that are such an integral part of Camille’s sound.

But that’s the problem: I don’t want to laugh at (or even with) Camille

For the first half of the concert the bare-footed singer methodically worked her way through the new album. Each song got its own subtle staging and lighting (giant shadows thrown across a diaphanous backdrop by a single spotlight swinging from a rope, everything aglow like a dying coal fire) just as each song had a different Camille character singing it: the shy little girl who led the nursery-room chant of “Allez allez allez”; the angry mistress of the self-explanatory rant “My Man is Married But Not to Me”, and the deadpan comedian of “Mars is No Fun”. The latter was a witty repost to all the romantics who have let their imaginations run wild in regard to the Red Planet. It’s also possibly the only song (and certainly the only French song) to mention Milton Keynes in its lyrics (which, needless to say, got the biggest laugh of the evening).

But that’s the problem: I don’t want to laugh at (or even with) Camille. She is a supremely gifted singer and songwriter who can hold an audience enraptured with her bittersweet melodies and startlingly original arrangements. Yet that doesn’t seem to be enough for her: she also has to be the all-round entertainer, too. So in the second half of the concert, in which she played some of her most popular songs, we got the audience-bark-and-meow-along number “Cats and Dogs”.

This I could just about take - it was actually quite amusing first time around, a couple of years ago. But jokes don’t bear repeating, particularly musical jokes: a novelty song is for Christmas, not for life. So when the audience were instructed to “la la la” along to countless choruses of a song in which each chorus started with the next letter of the alphabet (“ba ba bah”, “ca ca cah” etc) until the end of the alphabet was reached, it was clear that there’s a certain perverseness to Camille’s character which compels her to undermine her own seriousness. Because with this seemingly never-ending song she effectively dissolved the otherworldly atmosphere she had worked so hard to conjure up during the rest of the concert.

But much of last night was delightful, magical and transportive, so maybe I’m being a little harsh. After all, it could be said that Camille is Björk with a sense of humour. And given that Björk has become rather too earnest of late, perhaps that’s no bad thing.

Watch Camille perform "La douleur"

There’s a certain perverseness to Camille’s character which compels her to undermine her own seriousness


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Excellent review of a brilliant gig

She's a living proof that music is not death yet! Amazing woman.

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