(Royal Festival Hall, London Jazz Festival, November 15th 2009, review by
Melody Gardot’s lateness antagonised the Royal Festival Hall audience.
But Melody Gardot – gradually – won over writer Alison Hoblyn.
There was unrest in the Festival Hall on Sunday night. We’d been waiting over 25 minutes for Melody Gardot to set foot onstage and there’d already been three rounds of slow handclapping. I heard grumblings of ‘Call her Untrained Melody..’ from around me. The same MC who’d told us she would be 10 minutes late now re-appeared and began to waffle. ‘Is she ready!?’ someone called – and at last the lights went down.
Given the circumstances, it was an unfortunate beginning. Melody and her band, picked out by a follow spot, walked in through the audience – her voice singing into the blackness -accompanied by more handclapping. Was this part of the performance, or just a continuation of the audience disapproval? One doesn’t always get answers,up in the distant darkness of the balcony.
Her slender figure, dressed in black, gained the stage. She knelt down, centre front. There she began to pick up handfuls of sand, sifting it through her fingers- for what seemed like aeons – and then writing in sand on the floor in front of her. Maybe this would have been a theatrical and reflective start – if we hadn’t been waiting so long. At last, she rose to her feet and in that familiar clear voice began to sing a capella – a gospel type song, stamping her left foot as a percussive accompaniment. Certainly, given her medical history, she appeared not in the least frail. And, from the moment she began, she had you trusting – if not quite forgiving. Yet.
Her second number was lit to throw dramatic silhouettes of the band onto the back wall. She somehow seemed to be giving a message: ‘I, Melody Gardot, am not a packaged easy listening artist.’ She began at the piano, hopping up to kneel on the stool in order to pluck the strings of the Steinway, her attenuated form writhing on the back wall. She and the band were swaying, improvising. Jazz. Suddenly, agreeably, I found myself in New York, I was listening to the traffic moving and hooting through the city.
By the time she began ‘The Rain’ she was redeemed. At last her voice had come to the fore. And it is a very particular voice – I think there is no point in trying to compare her to other artists. There is a dimension of depth; the depth not vocal – for her voice is light and air-filled – but with a sense of knowing love and loss. She has this endearing way of pausing before she finishes the last consonant of a word – making a plosive fullstop. You can hear her breath, and it makes her real.
In between songs Melody talked to us of melancholy and thankfulness – maybe a bit too touchy-feely for the average male in the audience – but it felt genuine to me and scarily mature for a 24 year old. The young men in front of me were riveted however; looking down on the thatch of bright blonde hair and slim figure; no doubt about it, Melody is also good to look at. That is, as well as talented. She moved between piano, voice and two guitars – dubbed her ‘American husband and her Spanish husband’ – with ease.
Sadly, the late start meant many of her audience evacuated the auditorium before she was through. She tried to get us to sing along with ‘Who Will Comfort Me?’ – but perhaps put a few off by saying ‘If you can sing, join in and if you can’t sing………..don’t’. The encore began at 11pm. I was watching her doing a sinuous twist as the sax player (Irwin Hall) wreathed out the notes of ‘Caravan’. It was late, very late, So I understand why quite a lot of people had to leave. But they missed a real treat.
In short, I’m ready to see – and forgive her – all over again.
Alison Hoblyn is a novelist, garden writer and artist