thu 21/03/2019

Katie Melua and Gori Women's Choir, Central Hall Westminster, London, review - Georgia on her mind | reviews, news & interviews

Katie Melua and Gori Women's Choir, Central Hall Westminster, London, review - Georgia on her mind

Katie Melua and Gori Women's Choir, Central Hall Westminster, London, review - Georgia on her mind

A seriousness of purpose that is refreshing and engaging

Katie Melua: Georgia has never left her

Amid the cacophony and incivility that characterises so much of our lives today, an evening of calm and beauty with Katie Melua and the Gori Women’s Choir was just the ticket. The venue, Methodist Central Hall, is not the most obvious place for such a concert. Built to mark the centenary of John Wesley’s death, it welcomed the first meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, and Gandhi, Churchill and Martin Luther King have all spoken from its stage.

The acoustics are excellent and Melua and her four-piece band – Tim Harries on electric and upright bass, Mark Edwards on keyboards, Nicky Hustinx on drums, and brother Zurab Melua on guitar – and the 16 members of the Gori Women’s Choir were showcased to best advantage. They made a beautiful noise, performing a score of songs that spanned Melua’s career, many of which feature on In Winter, the 2016 album that’s just been re-released as a two-CD special edition set featuring a concert recorded in Admiralspalast Berlin alongside choral arrangements of Melua hits recorded in a small DIY studio in the community centre in Gori, (in)famous as the birthplace of Joseph Stalin. Melua, born in the former Soviet state in 1993, left the country when she was nine and her heart surgeon father took a post in Belfast, then another troubled part of the world.

It was all rewarding, much more so than Melua's early work

It’s clear Georgia has never left her and the Gori recording and 28-date tour which began in Stockholm in October and ends in Edinburgh this week is clearly a labour of the greatest love. As it is in Wales, singing is very much a part of Georgian life but where the Welsh go in for homophony, the Georgians – like the Bulgarians, as demonstrated by the celebrated Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares – do polyphony. Indeed, Georgia polyphonic singing is listed among UNESCO’s list of “intangible cultural assets” and listening at Central Hall you can hear why.

The sound the women make is at times almost orchestral, the richness and depth – the concentration on each note – like a cello section, or the woodwind. The sonorities are wonderful, the tension/release of dissonance giving way to perfect harmony. Teona Tsiramua, who has been the choir’s chief conductor for five years, stands on-stage, a few paces from Melua, who occasionally puts her guitar aside and joins the Choir’s line-up. Conducting is never simply about beating time and to watch Tsiramua makes that very clear, her facial expressions and minute hand gestures speaking volumes to the Gori women.

The concert was split roughly fifty-fifty between Melua and the band and Melua and the Choir. It was all rewarding, so much more so than Melua’s early work which was pleasant enough but inconsequential. One must assume her tastes and interests are located further upmarket than those of Mike “Wombles” Batt, who discovered her at the BRIT School when she was 18. They parted company four years ago and Melua’s pursuit of the Gori project shows a seriousness of purpose that is refreshing and engaging.

After five songs with the band, including “Belfast” and “Nine Million Bikes”, the Choir joined Melua for the next five, beginning with a beautiful arrangement of Joni Mitchell’s “River”. The highlights were the “Cradle Song”, a Romanian carol, beautifully articulated, the Gori voices building, falling away and building again, the tones coloured to perfection, and “O Holy Night”, the French carol that’s been recorded by artists as diverse as Jussi Bjorling and Mariah Carey. Melua begins, accompanying herself on a Spanish-style guitar, simply plucked, a hint of drone in the bass. Then the choir enters, voices gently swelling – curling, twining, wrapping themselves around Melua’s own. It is, as she says, the most beautiful of carols.

What follows is a surprising solo – “Diamonds Are Forever”, at odds with what’s gone before but actually quite beautiful when sung tunefully to an acoustic guitar.

The second half was a similar shape, with old favourites such as “Closest Thing to Crazy” and “Wonderful Life” among the Melua solos, plus “Fields of Gold”, the 2017 Children in Need single. The concert closed with two ensemble numbers, “Maybe I Dreamt It” and “What A Wonderful World”, the Louis Armstrong classic from the Summer of Love which Melua’s idol, the late Eva Cassidy, recorded. A perfect end to a deeply satisfying evening.

The animation by Karni & Saul which played behind the performers was effective, especially the snow scenes.

Keeva, enjoying a nice break from the pub circuit, was the opening act. She plays good guitar – interesting jazz-inflected chords, no capo – and is possessed of a pleasant voice with hints of Patsy Cline. The Quink Ink-coloured sparkly dress and silver heels were a mistake however – combined with the specs, they gave her the look of a secretary having a turn with the band at the office party.

Liz Thomson's website






One must assume her tastes and interests are located further upmarket than those of Mike 'Wombles' Batt, who discovered her at the BRIT School when she was 18

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What a beautifully written review (apart from the unnecessary dig at Keeva's appearance). But I do raise an eyebrow at trying to curry favour with Katie by making her out to be 25 instead of 34 ;-) To be fair though, she does look 25....

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