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Josienne Clarke, Green Note review - world-class melancholia hits its mark | reviews, news & interviews

Josienne Clarke, Green Note review - world-class melancholia hits its mark

Josienne Clarke, Green Note review - world-class melancholia hits its mark

Stripped to the bone: the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winner returns

Picture credit: @mralecbowman

It’s been a period of upheaval and change for singer-songwriter, and compelling interpreter of traditional ballads, Josienne Clarke. These days she’s a Rough Trade artist, now sailing solo seas away from her long-time musical partner, producer and arranger Ben Walker.

Together between 2010 and last year, they released two digital albums, Our Light is Gone and The Seas are Deep, three EPs and four exquisite CD/vinyl releases in 2013’s Fire & Fortune, the following year’s Nothing Can Bring Back the Hour, 2016’s Overnight and the final Seedlings All last year, the latter the first to be comprised entirely of her own songs.

There have been stints as an actor/singer at The National Theatre, at the behest of Cerys Matthews, in its revival of Our Country’s Good at the Olivier, and since then she’s collaborated with jazz pianist Kit Downes, and with London-based Scottish singer songwriter Samantha Whates as PicaPica, whose debut, Together & Apart, appeared on Rough Trade earlier this year. She’s recently toured with Richard Thompson and Robert Plant, and with Walker shared two BBC Radio 2 Folk Award nominations, but at this sold-out Green Note gig she is alone, solo, on her ownsome – and then some, previewing new songs from a yet-to-be titled debut solo album, including the starkly beautiful, delicate yet indomitable single, Things I Didn’t Need, released in April.

Her set focuses on the new - some of these songs are written-last-week brand new, with no title, but packed with a long emotional reach. Opening with the recent single, and proceeding through the likes of "Drawing a Line", "Leaving London" and "Never Lie", each and together they chart an inner narrative, with Clarke switching between acoustic and electric guitar. "It's too early in the set for jaded feminist songs," she says at one point, but it's not because they're not really songs with placards but a gunpowder mix of confession, absolution, concision and dismissal. They just might be the best break-up songs since Blood on the Tracks - big claims, but listen to the songs. 

Lyrically, they're not so much about heartbreak as about knowledge, and that is always compelling. There is no one to match her in that regard, perhaps in any genre. Musically, the paring is to the bone. Some pieces are shorn of all but verse, chorus, and basic melody, all wrapped up on a minute and a half of great music, like an old Buddy Holly single. Shorn of ornamentation, they're the bride stripped bare to reveal stark realities beneath. Dry and funny between songs, she's intense, concise and knowing within them. She could be playing the likes of "Season & Time" or "Unbound" to thousands, tens of thousands, not only the hundred-odd lucky ones crammed into the long room of the Green Note, soaking it all in with the collective body heat. These are songs of insight and passion that don't come along often; catch them if you can. The album  is due in the autumn. For Clarke's songs of fruitful loss, that is the perfect season.

Watch Josienne Clarke's video for Things I Didn't Need.


Lyrically, they're not so much about heartbreak as about knowledge, and that is always compelling


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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