Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo - Dear River - Stresswitch - Live Review

Live: Emily Barker - In-store session at KJ West One, London (16 May 2013)
MAY 17, 2013

It's a year since I last saw Emily Barker play a solo show. On that occasion, she was in the middle of a gruelling touring schedule, both as a solo artist and with The Red Clay Halo, that made Captain Cook look like a slacker. Understandably, a degree of road-weariness was noticeable but, ever the trouper, Emily put on a great show under almost seige conditions. So it was a pleasure to attend last night's in-store session at KJ West One's impressive Central London showroom in surroundings that offered an ideal environment for Emily's music and to find her looking relaxed and happy.

As the audience gathered in the spacious main room, we were treated to a sneak preview of Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo's forthcoming album Dear River and I have to say that it sounded fabulous. Undoubtedly, the Linn sound system played its part in that but, ultimately, even the best music system in the world is only as good the records played on it - and, in Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo, under the auspices of producer/engineer Calum Malcolm at Glasgow's Gorbals Sound studio, you really couldn't ask for a better music production team. Roll on 8 July, when Dear River finally drops: it's been a long time coming...

I digress. Emily eased her way into the set with a confident version of Little Deaths, followed swiftly by Ropes, one of the highlights from 2011′s Almanac. The set really began to simmer with Blackbird, a tried and tested foot-tapper, before reaching a rolling boil with Nostalgia. Having got the two high-profile law-and-disorder theme songs under her belt, Emily dropped things down a gear for Letters and Tuesday; two songs which, in the recent EB&TRCH London shows, had almost made up an acoustic set of their own.

Bringing things back up again, we were treated to two live favourites, Disappear, from Despite The Snow and previous single Fields Of June, with the redoubtable Dom Coyote serving up a flamboyant performance as guest vocalist.

Emily brought the set to a close with one of the most intimate versions of Home I've heard, in the process neatly tying up a couple of loose ends. The song originally appeared on Photos. Fires. Fables., her first independently-released album, which also saw the first recorded appearance of The Red Clay Halo (Anna, Gill and Jo). In addition, Emily has often said that the conceptual and lyrical theme of Dear River is ‘home' - ‘not only a place but also the people we know and the stories we inherit from our ancestors' - so it was an apt end to the set.

Except, of course, that it wasn't: in true EB frock'n'roll fashion, we were treated to an encore, the title track of the new album. From the recent live shows, the loping scratchy harmonics of Dear River, a love letter of sorts to Emily's Australian home, was an obvious contender for a single. It duly appeared as such last week (buy it from iTunes here!) - I've been listening to it constantly since downloading it, so it was a treat to hear a different version.

In closing, I'd like to add a personal note: the event had been arranged to mark the official signing of Emily Barker to Linn Records so it was only appropriate that her appearance should be introduced by the company's MD, Gilad Tiefenbrun. For a diehard EB&TRCH fan like me, it was immensely reassuring to see Gilad there: in these days of multinational Hydra-headed entertainment corporations where profit is the only concern, to find a record company whose MD's enjoyment of the artists' music is so obvious is not only a refreshing change, it also gives me hope that Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo's dreams and ambitions, their creative spirits, will be respected and included.

Here's to a long and fruitful working relationship - and a big thank you to all who are making it happen!

17 May 2013