The Cluny (2), Newcastle – 9/2/2013
Standing awkwardly by the entrance of the Cluny in what was an attempt to avoid suffocation amidst a sea of bodies (not difficult considering my pocket-friendly size), I watched as a dark-haired and blue-eyed woman waltzed in, hair up, coat on, white guitar case in hand. I quickly came to the conclusion that she was unremarkable, in the sense that she would inconspicuously blend into the crowded scene with ease, sans white guitar case; and as she disappeared around the corner of the bustling bar with a newly acquired glass of wine, I wondered if I’d even seen the right person.
Different part of the building, an extremely swift soundcheck (we clocked 10 minutes), and one interview later, I found that the woman I had seen was indeed Amelia Curran. What I had been mistaken about, however, was twofold; firstly, Amelia was not the main act of the evening – that was to be O’Hooley and Tidow, a folk duo from Yorkshire whose set was no less impressive, and who I would also highly recommend seeing in person. Secondly, to say that the pre-gig interview had given rise to a niggling suspicion that I was about to witness something great does not do Amelia – nor anyone – justice. Simply put, despite only having a 45 minute set, every second of Amelia’s performance blew me away.
Accompanied by a different alcohol beverage onstage, Amelia opened with ‘The Modern Man’, a track off her latest album Spectators, and I was instantly struck by how vulnerable she was. Having listened to her records, there was always healthy, albeit restrained, instrumental layering that gave her music extra ‘oomph’; live, it was like Amelia was a completely different artist. With nothing but her guitar, her performance was even more minimalistic than on her records, exposing her voice bare. And as she sang track after track off Spectators, the husk in her voice became more evident, something Amelia confessed was down to her ‘drinking and smoking vices.’ Every crack in her voice and every grainy syllable sung contributed to the performance, somehow making the songs all the more raw, and I found my attention being drawn in particular to the lyrics. During our interview, Amelia had discussed how every word in her lyrics mattered, was part of the painstaking process of songwriting, and being aware of this, I discovered a new-found complexity in her performance as a result. Her self-awareness and honesty reflected heavily in her music, mesmorising the audience completely, and I found myself wishing the gig wouldn’t end.
It was amazing then that between the intensity of her songs, Amelia made jokes about her mother, talked of Newfoundland, and poked fun at how awkward she was being on stage. Combining her light-hearted banter with the intimate venue, it felt like she had created a connection with the audience, something artists sometimes fail to achieve. She even encouraged the audience to shout song requests at her, chuckling that ‘it might be difficult if you’ve never heard my music before.’ Having also played several songs from her award-winning album Hunter, Hunter – ‘The Mistress’ was one particular highlight of the night – by this point, she happily complied to an audience member’s request for ‘Just A Tuesday’, a track hidden away in War Brides. I, myself, was tempted to request ‘Soft Wooden Towers’, but refrained from doing so as I was more curious to see what remaining songs she would choose out of her ‘setlist’, as during our chat, she had confessed to spontaneity in her live sets. In other words, what she performs depends on the audience, or her ‘crazy spectrum of moods.’ Rounding off with ‘Face On The News’ and ‘Strangers’, a fitting end to the set, I sat dumbstruck, watching Amelia pack away her guitar in that white case and wander off stage to get yet another drink. I found myself left with the question of how after experiencing such an intimate performance, as if I had been told her deepest thoughts, it was so easy then that we became strangers again as she quietly slipped under the world’s radar once more. That is, until her next album.