FROM adversity comes strength – and when you’ve suddenly (albeit temporarily) lost a third of your vocal range as a singer, adversity certainly stares you in the face.
On Friday night, this is exactly what happened to Sarah Gillespie half way through the first of two performances at Pizza Express Live in London’s Soho. For some performers, it would have been the issuing of a sincere apology followed by a swift exit stage left. But fortified, revived and strengthened by some medicinal brandy and assisted by a big dollop of support from backing vocalist Emma Devine, Gillespie triumphed quite magnificently. Not once but twice. Professional to the core.
In between the gargling of neat brandy, Gillespie – performing with her quintet – gave the audience a glimpse into her extensive songbook that embraces four albums, including last year’s much-acclaimed album Wishbones.
A potpourri of jazz, folk and blues. Songs for the most part crafted by Gillespie and comprising lyrics that demonstrate her ability to pen magical, witty, evocative and intelligent words – be they about her experiences as a newish mother, the loss of her own mother (that still pains her) and political issues that rankle with her (yes, that awful individual that goes under the title of President Trump as well as environmental destruction).
It meant the night was as much a poetic journey as it was a musical one – with as much enjoyment derived from her words as from her rasping voice and Chris Montague’s mastery of the guitar (boy, can he play).
Wit coursed through her songs, from the opening You Win (based on a litigious ex-husband) through to the finale, Lucifer’s High Chair (taken from album In The Current Climate).
In between, we were treated to How The Mighty Fall (Gillespie’s ode to Trump), Babies And All That Shit, Glory Days (a love letter to her late mother) and the quite extraordinary Ballard of Standing Rock that features a great percussion opening from James Maddren, haunting and moaning guitar from Montague and masterful piano from Tom Cawley.
A tour de force of a musical journey, all threaded together with lyrics about a worker going for a job on a North Dakota oil pipeline, only to discover to his horror that the project will cut across sacred Indian land (he proceeds to get horribly drunk, waking up to a time 200 years ago when Indians ruled the land). Song-writing of the highest order. Sensitive, heartfelt and impassioned. Gillespie in a nutshell.
Despite the vocal challenges, Gillespie’s version of Moonshiner – a despairing tale of a drunk – was haunting (‘and if whisky don’t kill me, then I don’t know what will’) while Susannah Threw A Helicopter was a witty take on the constant reports Gillespie would receive from her daughter’s nursery school charting what was going on in class (much throwing of helicopters).
Her decision to go solo on Postcards To Outer Space (apart from herself playing acoustic guitar) was brave but rewarding. A lament for a mother gone – ‘I can’t miss you any more’. Gillespie’s father watched on from the audience (as did guitar maestro Tony Remy).
There was more – an upbeat Sugar Sugar and Wishbone. For the most part, all sprinkled with a little bit of delightful Devine. Boy, did she rise to the occasion.
Gillespie is a hugely talented individual. Besides her sublime song-writing and sultry voice (that sounds of smoky saloon bars and jazz joints), she is a successful artist and poet (Queen Ithaca Blues) – take a peek at https://www.sarahgillespie.com
Even in adversity, Sarah Gillespie shines like the moon. Brilliantly so. A full moon.