sat 24/08/2019

Emily Barker & the Red Clay Halo/Chris T-T, Oran Mor, Glasgow | reviews, news & interviews

Emily Barker & the Red Clay Halo/Chris T-T, Oran Mor, Glasgow

Emily Barker & the Red Clay Halo/Chris T-T, Oran Mor, Glasgow

Aussie folk songstress takes her immersive show on the long and winding road

Angels: Emily Barker (left) with Gill Sandell of the Red Clay HaloLisa-Marie Ferla

If Glasgow was to find a little corner for the traditional spirit of vaudeville to live on, it would make sense if it was this one: set the basement of a 19th century church with an audience sitting in lines on gold-painted seats; and two highly accomplished songwriters introducing each other with the sense of ceremony you so rarely find at concerts these days. This was one of the first stops on Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo’s epic tour of every corner of the UK - there are over 20 of these shows still to go - and if the band and tour-mate Chris T-T can succeed in making every night feel this special, they’ll have exhausted themselves by the end of it.

Chris T-T at Oran Mor, GlasgowWith ninth album The Bear, his third for indie stalwarts Xtra Mile, released earlier this month, Chris T-T (pictured right) should really have been offered a knighthood for services to English underground music by now - if only so he could tear up the letter and write a bite-your-lip funny protest song about it. The album’s title track (“also called ‘The Bear’, because that’s how these things work”) is one of the bitterest things he has written in a while - a raucous, rabble-rouser of a thing packed with pertinent pop culture references that makes full use of the fact that the songwriter is fronting a five-piece band these days.

Stripped of the band for this tour, however, it turned out that the song was less of a new direction for a musician whose words have always been adequate to express his dissatisfaction; its fast-paced imagery an effective stream-of-consciousness rant when accompanied only by acoustic guitar. However, whether the bear of the song’s title was the same as the one hiding behind a corner, waiting for a “silly” to step onto a crack in the pavement in one of Chris’s 2011 musical adaptations of the poems of AA Milne, was never confirmed.

The short set flipped between the sweet - and occasionally political - songs from Chris’s family-friendly one-man Edinburgh Fringe show and stripped back versions of the new material, which was less jarring a mix than it might sound. If 2010’s Love Is Not Rescue proved anything, it’s that Chris T-T is the master of the screwed-up contemporary love song, and there were no happy endings in the set’s two most striking examples: “Tunguska”, which likened the dying days of a relationship to the eponymous 1908 Siberian explosion; and “Gulls”, which Emily Barker’s ghostly backing vocals rendered windswept and lonely. Even the normally articulate Chris seemed to lose his ability to speak after the subtle power of their performance.

For their part, Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo opened with the thunk-thunk, thunk-thunk of the title track to their own recent release, Dear River. With its overriding theme of home - both the place, and the people and their stories - the band’s recent music feels like a personal mythology; something that was only amplified by Gill Sandell on accordion and Anna Jenkins’s old-timey fiddle. The vocal harmonies provided by the band, which also features Jo Silverston on cello, are gorgeous on record but live, the way their voices meshed together was incredible.

Emily Barker & the Red Clay Halo at Oran Mor, GlasgowIt was most obvious on “Letters”, a song from the new album with lyrics pieced together from letters sent by Barker’s grandfather while separated from his family during World War Two. Live, the frontwoman swapped her acoustic guitar for an electric but the song retained its spacious, reverent verses, with Sandell’s flute in particular a gorgeous addition. The song’s bridge, however, is where its power and majesty lies, and it swelled to fill the room with its choir of voices, drums and strings.

Theirs was a show full of magical moments: the stage lights the colour of a perfect sunset that shows up in the lyrics to “The Leaving”; Aretha Franklin’s “Do Right Woman” reinterpreted as a country song; the young man in red braces pulled from the crowd to sing Frank Turner’s part on “Fields of June”, while the Red Clay Halo on thrilling strings had way more fun than seemed appropriate for a murder ballad; or the wild rendition of “Everywhen” that threatened to tear the roof from the old church. And yet the night’s eventual highlight was an old one: “Nostalgia” (below), the song that was later re-recorded as the theme to Wallander; spooky enough to drown out the appropriately-timed sirens from the street outside with a giddy rush of cello. Barker’s vocals, always expressive and melodic, had never been better.


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