THERE are few more versatile – and talented – musicians currently doing the live London circuit than Sarah Gillespie.
With three albums (Stalking Juliet, In the Current Climate and Glory Days) and an EP (Roundhouse Bounty) under her belt, she brings a rich play list to the stage.
Gillespie is difficult to pigeon hole. Her music is a combination of folk, blues and jazz while vocally she is part Joni Mitchell, part Kate Melua. Her music is influenced by her American mother and the frequent trips she made to Minnesota where she soaked in the blues’ sounds. She also busked her way around America.
One moment she is belting out an old Bessie Smith tune (the so called ‘Empress of the Blues’) such as ‘Do your Duty’:
‘I call three times a day
Come and drive my blues away
When you come, be ready to play
Do your duty.’
The next she is marvelling the audience with her witty lyrics, embracing everything from songs about lonely heart ads, tales about her late mother (much missed), motherhood (she has an one year old daughter) and the fragility of love.
She is also not frightened to tell us what she thinks of President Trump (‘my new muse,’ she remarks tongue in cheek, just five minutes into her first set).
A venue such as St James Studio (now renamed The Other Palace) in London is perfect for Gillespie (dark, tight, intimate and atmospheric). But her true home is the 606 Club on Lots Road, Chelsea.
It is where she worked before breaking into the music circuit and it is where she returns on a regular basis to belt out her tunes. Even though it is usually a Thursday night 606 billing for Gillespie (a quiet night by 606 standards), she always gives her audience value for money. In return she is rapturously received as she was last Thursday (20 April).
She has a super band behind her. Emma Devine, backing vocals, is a star in the making while Tom Cawley (piano), Ben Bastin (bass) and James Maddren (drums) provide exemplary support. Saxophonist Gilad Atzmon, a massive influence on her albums Stalking Juliet and In the Current Climate, is a notable absentee (check out his exemplary playing on the two albums).
Starting with In the ‘Current Climate’, then moving onto ‘How the Mighty Fall’ (where she has her little dig at Trump), she steps up a gear with a Bessie Smith classic: ‘Nobody Knows You’. Smith, she says, is the ‘goddess of blues’.
Gillespie’s lyrics shine through on ‘Signal Failure’, a song about the role of the smartphone in relationships – and in particular how it can feed insecurity.
‘Please call me back, I’m pissed and perplexed,’ she pleads. ‘You don’t read my texts.’
In between the music, there are anecdotes aplenty – including a recent fruitless search for a breast pump in Cornwall while on tour. ‘I had to get that [tale] off my chest,’ she says as she launches into ‘Another Country Song’.
On ‘Lonely Heart Sads’, she bursts into poetry, using the Evening Standard lonely hearts ads as the basis for the words.
‘I’m lovely on the inside
Friends say I am kind
I will grow slowly on you like a language
Or subsidence in a disintegrating house
Full of hard working innocent people sleeping.’
And: ‘Stigmata with her own bandage factory seeks evangelical atheist to stop her from bleeding.’
Witty words that draw laughter from the 606 audience.
Standouts among the 19 song performance include a rousing ‘Lucifer’s High Chair’ and ‘Rhinestones’ where Devine’s backing vocals shine through.
She is also happy playing solo with just her guitar for company (as on ‘Oh Mary’ and ‘Postcards to Outer Space’).
The finale – after a stirring version of ‘Stalking Juliet’ – is ‘Million Moons’.
‘Now you’re dreaming of Delilah
And that girl from Ipanema
Having seen her in the tabloids
With her dignity beneath her
And you’re racing like a crazy man
Complaining of the weather
You’re Jupiter in drag
And I love you more than ever.’
Judging on this performance, and the reaction of the 606 audience, we love you (Sarah Gillespie) more than ever.
If you are in Cambridge on Thursday night (27 April), the Sarah Gillespie Quartet is playing at the Hidden Rooms. At £15 a ticket – £12 for students – it is a musical bargain.
Do Your Duty.
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