wed 29/05/2024

Ren Harvieu, Lexington Arms | reviews, news & interviews

Ren Harvieu, Lexington Arms

Ren Harvieu, Lexington Arms

A night of nerves and ultimate release from the UK's much heralded new retro-soul diva

Ren Harvieu: 'Her voice was a wonder which crept up on her'

Five minutes before stage time at the Lexington, the latest retro-soul diva from the mighty Universal conglomerate hovered outside the ladies’ toilet downstairs, holding a crutch and looking decidedly nervous. Ren Harvieu was one of the nominees in the BBC’s Sound of 2012, and has been groomed for the past two years in the same Kid Gloves stable, which churned out Duffy and Amy Winehouse.

Thus the nation will doubtless soon become readily conversant with her exotic French-Canadian surname, and know that the first one is short for Lauren. 

Unlike many such major-label racing certainties, Harvieu, though only 21 and from Higher Broughton in Salford, comes attached with such a remarkable backstory that from the off you’re almost willing her to succeed. In short: she’s enough to make Parky come out of retirement.

She seemed to be weeping, physically, as she soared through Orbison’s falsetto impossibilities

Her voice was a wonder which crept up on her in her teenage years. She sang only in private, until she entered herself in local talent contests called things like "Salford Superstar" – she never won. Her vocal gift also went ungarlanded at a performing arts course in Manchester. Recognition only came after a song she’d recorded at a friend’s studio and placed on Facebook was unearthed by a Liverpool-based manager named Paul Harrison, who hooked her up with a producer, and quickly secured her a nurturing deal at Universal. 

The rest would’ve been history, had Ren not then suffered a freak accident last summer, which almost left her paralyzed for life. On the cusp of releasing her debut single in May, she was out partying with some friends (but not as drunk as them, apparently), when one leapt over a hedge, landed on top of her and broke her back. After four months of orthopaedic treatment, she astonished all by emerging, both walking, and with voice unimpaired. So: game on again, kicking off with an intimate, industry-heavy showcase at the Lexington – an oddly gnarly venue, given the lavish orchestral sweep of her imminent first recordings.

Harvieu took the stage still carrying the crutch – possibly more for emotional support, than physical. As she launched into “Tonight”, a swaggering, brassy song which on record posits her as an unreconstructed 1960s Bond-theme heroine, her voice simply didn’t unfurl. She seemed crippled by nerves, a suspicion corroborated by the fact that she appeared to have two conflicting cossies on – one all black lycra and fishnets, like a Horrors fan, the other a holey, green-sequin evening dress worthy of Shirley Bassey. Amongst her five-piece backing combo, the brass and strings were covered by a lone saxman, and a bloke with a couple of Nord keyboards. It was a wobbly start. 

The next few numbers didn’t go well. “Walking in the Rain”, which should cast her as a young, vaguely countrified Linda Ronstadt, was dull and flat. During “Twist the Knife”, with its desperate, Dusty Springfield-esque pleading line, “She won’t love you like I do”, Harvieu strained to summon the sound she knew resided within her, but it simply wouldn’t come out. Then there was an iffy, Madness-y pop-reggae one, followed by Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Games”, which she absolutely murdered. Her seductive moves were mawkish, her banter inaudible, and her earpiece kept falling out. We were in the realm of The X Factor heats. 

A couple of times, a beardy fellow walked out for a word in her ear – presumably: “Sing up, lass! You know you can do it!” – and the first sign that she really could arrived on “Through the Night”, her first single, which was co-written with singer-songwriter Ed Harcourt (other songs have been penned alongside Dave McCabe from The Zutons, and Glasvegas). Harcourt took over at the keys, and lifted the frozen band to spirit up some of the tune’s stomping Northern-soul ramalama. 

Harvieu then coyly introduced her favourite song, Roy Orbison’s “Crying”. It seemed suicidal for a young singer having a traumatic early gig to take on a track so inescapably built around vocal acrobatics. Accompanied just by her keyboard player, however, young Ren closed her eyes and finally let rip. Perhaps it was the release of her nerves, or of the pain of her injury, but she seemed to be weeping, physically, as she soared through Orbison’s falsetto impossibilities, and tricksy phrasing – one of the most moving performances this writer has witnessed in some months. Newly triumphant, Harvieu rounded off with her own, Smiths-y “Open Up Your Arms”, and it was now hard to resist its plea. She’d battled, and won. 

For all those oldsters who still pay for their music, Ren Harvieu is pretty much a dream come true. Our retro-soul divas hitherto have had their so-called contemporary relevance grafted onto them, with broom-cupboard beats from Mark Ronson, and what have you. Here, finally, is one with nothing ‘nu’ about her – a proper belter of the 1960’s/timeless school. Amongst all today’s pneumatic pop careerists, this young star-in-waiting’s strength, like Orbison’s, lies precisely in her vulnerability. She’ll need to work on her stagecraft, to be sure, but roll on, the Albert Hall.

Harvieu took the stage carrying a crutch – possibly more for emotional support than physical


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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Are you sure you were at Ren Harvieu's show last night because the end of this review sounds like you were somewhere else. I thought her 'seductive moves' were sincere and personal to her, part of her own natural style. She has her own character distinguishable and unique from so many others. Someone definately worth keeping a close eye on!!

I didn't realise this gig was so full of industry types. It certainly explains why she seemed to have attracted a certain type of man: podgy, mid-forties, wearing a coat, and shoving a camera right up her nose from under the monitors. Personally, I thought the dress, and the performance, was excellent, particularly in the face of a stiff, rather judgemental London crowd. My mate thought she was suffering a little with nerves for the first two songs but I was mesmerised. It definitely didn't take her until Through The Night to find her groove, but there were times when I felt like I was the only one cheering her on. (And, yes, I did cheer. On my own. Thanks, London!) Such a short set, though (see list photo attached), which was a shame. I doubt I'll ever again get the chance to see her in a venue of this size.

I was also there last night and thought she was fantastic. She's a beautiful, haunting, mesmeric talent.

She was absolutely brilliant. This is a cynical and slightly bitchy review that should not be taken seriously.

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