SARAH GILLESPIE is a much under-stated artist despite having a posse of successful albums under her belt – including Stalking Juliet (2009), Glory Days (2014) and a thrilling collaboration with Gilad Atzmon (In The Current Climate, 2011). A new album is currently being cut and will be released in the autumn.
Yet her somewhat self-deprecating stage presence does little to hide the talent of this gifted musician – and marvellous lyricist – judging by her fine performance last Thursday night (June 21) at Brasserie Zedel in London.
Gillespie, Anglo-American, has a voice that evokes images of smoky and poorly lit bar rooms. Of illegal drinking dens. It is sensual, husky and enhanced by the sublime backing vocals of Emma Devine. She is the Joni Mitchell of our time. Smouldering Sarah Gillespie. An infusion of jazz, blues and folk.
With Tom Cawley on piano, Gillespie – playing guitar and sitting down throughout – dug deep into her back book to provide the audience with an hour or so long glimpse into her musical world. Only occasionally did she veer off into cover territory although when she did justice was given to Bob Dylan’s Moonshiner and Bessie Smith’s Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out. Smith is very much a Gillespie heroine – she calls her the empress of blues.
Most of Gillespie’s songs are underpinned by dollops of wit as evidenced in Signal Failure, a song about romantic jealousy in the age of the smartphone. Lonely Heart Sads is based on some of the weirder adverts posted by individuals in search of companionship – ‘bald pink round man seeks woman, not similar’. Funny and clever.
On introducing the gastronomic fuelled lyrics of Sugar Sugar, she admits she has found it difficult to keep svelte following the birth of daughter Susannah, drawing comparisons with the slim Devine. Yes, self-deprecating again – Gillespie both under-plays and under-estimates her beauty.
She is also not frightened to reveal the colour of her politics with How The Mighty Fall – a song she ‘devoted’ to President Trump (in hope more than anything else). Nor pen lyrics in acknowledgement of her late American mother – Glory Days (‘I wish you would come back’) and Postcards To Outer Space – and her Irish American aunt Mary (Oh Mary). Two songs that she sang with only her guitar as accompaniment. Raw and heartfelt. You could feel the passion and love emanate from her soul.
The finale was both rousing and revealing. Rousing in that both Lucifer’s High Chair and Stalking Juliet demonstrated the versatility of Gillespie’s voice – and the subtle, complementary vocal backing of Devine.
Revealing in that she flagged one of the tracks that will be on her new album – I’ve Got To Let You Down. The opposite of making wedding vows. A song that on the album will feature Laura Jurd on trumpet.
Gillespie’s new album Wishbones, arranged and co-produced by pianist and composer Kit Downes, will be launched at the Southbank Centre (Purcell Room) in London on October 29. On stage with Gillespie will be Downes (piano), James Maddren (drums), Chris Montague (guitar), Ruth Goller (bass) and Jurd. Devine, I trust, will be there as well to add her subtle vocal touch.
One for the diary – with a big yellow post-it note: ‘priority – unmissable’.