Well, the gig turned out to be even better than I expected. In typical paranoid fashion, I got to the venue at 6:45, the main doors didn’t open until 8:30 and the support act weren’t on until 9:00. But that’s nothing a couple of cans of Red Stripe couldn’t fix, and it did mean I was right down the front (and zealously guarding my spot) right from the start.
Sam’s support was the Michael Rattray Allstars, or more accurately half of them: Michael and his backup singer and co-guitarist Gavin Kelly. I’ve never heard their stuff before (no surprise, given they come from the Perth that’s not in Western Australia), but it was really impressive: melodic, acoustic numbers with wry lyrics, with being overweight a surprisingly frequent subject, that put me quite in mind of Kirsty MacColl in many respects. I was so impressed I bought three of their CDs afterwards, and even managed to snag their set list off the stage (it was written, improbably enough, on a scrap of paper torn from a Tesco’s Finest mayonnaise dip packet).
As well as the listed numbers, they finished a cover of a song called ‘Mary’ (by a Scottish band whose name currently escapes me), which opens with the brilliant lines “Immaculate conception — yeah right!”
That was an impressive start, but Sam Brown was the reason I was here. I’ve tracked her career consistently ever since I first heard ‘Stop’ in the UK in late 1988, across a series of excellent but increasingly hard to get albums, and have long known of her reputation as a searing live performer, working largely with her own piano or ukulele accompaniment and chatting away happily to the audience in between.
All this proved to be true. Her voice is just astounding, impressive on ballads, blues and upbeat numbers. And her stage presence is equally commanding, even when she plays the wrong chord or (as she did this evening) warns us she’s likely to burp in the next number, then did. (I was standing so close that I felt it would be rude to use the flash on my camera, but the pictures turned out pretty well regardless. Not everyone, I have to say, was so well-mannered.)
Her set list was right in front of me, so I had some idea what was coming up, but she tended to deviate wildly and also took audience requests. That led to her performing ‘Fear Of Life’, one of my favourite Sam tracks but one I didn’t expect to get the pleasure of hearing. (Someone else nabbed the set list before I could grab it, alas).
Along with tracks Sam nearly always performs (‘One Candle’, ‘Kiss Of Life’ and the inevitable ‘Stop’), we got treated to at least three new songs: ‘Cradle Me’, ‘Walk With Me’ and something along the lines of ‘We All Look Like Fools In Love’. Rattray and Gavin also returned for an impressive duet on ‘Booty’. The loud Glaswegian audience kept throwing in comments, and Sam herself was quick to note that smoking has now been effectively banned in Scottish pubs, which suited me (and my denim jacket) right down to the ground.
It’s really been quite a week: six feet away from Martin Fry in concert on Wednesday, the same distance from Ruth Rendell on Friday, and now a similarly close encounter with Sam Brown on Sunday (plus all those bonus Who celebrities). That’s worth any amount of travel hassles.