|Sarah Gillespie. Photo credit Annabel Vere|
Sarah Gillespie Trio
(Albion Beatnik Bookshop, Oxford.Tues. 11th June 2013. Review by Alison Bentley)
Oxford’s Albion Beatnik Bookshop could have been a stage set specially built for singer-songwriter Sarah Gillespie‘s trio, dwarfed by towering bookstacks full of Kerouac and Camus, and ads for jazz and beat poetry readings. She’s on the road herself, in the middle of a 29-date tour of solo, trio and quartet gigs, promoting her new CD Glory Days (Pastiche Records). On this gig, Kit Downes‘ keyboard and Ben Bastin‘s double bass wove in with her dramatic voice, acoustic guitar and intriguing songs. They have sparky titles that draw you in.
They opened with In the Current Climate; Gillespie’s low gravelly sound expressed the ‘unruly wind’ of love, yodelling up into high breathiness like Liane Carroll. There was a rocky feel, like The Band with Dylan – some country blues and ragtime. She sang with some of Dylan’s vocal mannerisms at times, full of passion: ‘ “You know what,” she said/ I want everything…” ‘.
Love could be fickle: in Lucifer’s High Chair, with its risky, complex time changes: ‘I can hear Lucifer/In his high chair/banging his spoons’. In Million Moons, Gillespie’s voice moved suddenly from a gentle Rickie Lee Jones drawl to an impassioned yell worthy of Patti Smith- but wittier: ‘Now you’re dreaming of Delilah/ And that girl from Ipanema/ Having seen her in the tabloids/ With her dignity beneath her’.
It was fascinating to hear the stories behind the songs. The Bees and the Seas, which seemed full of Ginsberg-esque images of anger (‘No apologies could stop/ the bile ballooning from my lips.’) was based on Gillespie’s actual experience of being attacked by a swarm of bees. Bastin’s bass was particularly percussive on this tune, all slap and groove, more than making up for the missing drums (Enzo Zirilli on the new CD). Oh Mary (written for her recently widowed aunt) had particularly expressive solo guitar, blending beautifully with the sliding vocal lines. When she sang: ‘I can hear you sigh’, she really sighed. Glory Days ( a ‘love letter’ to her late mother) had a yearning folk-rock beat (enhanced on the CD by Gilad Atzmon’s accordion). Childhood memories were swept into an uplifting chorus (‘We can’t erase/ our glory days’). Downes’ gospelly piano solos brought out the Nina Simone in Gillespie’s impassioned vibrato. The Soldier, sung to Paul Simon-style guitar, was the story of Gillespie’s chance meeting with a young soldier, whose joining up was less to do with the ‘war on terror’ than his lack of employment. Bastin’s strong bass arpeggios echoing the guitar were particularly powerful here, as were Downes’ bluesy solos between verses.
Wry humour prevailed: in Signal Failure (‘a song about romantic jealousy in the age of smartphones’) Gillespie was both mocking and vulnerable. (‘I’m speculating if your silence spells/ indifference or rage’) The country blues feel and strong 3/4 melody were sung in a husky whisper with a Piaf vibrato. Gillespie recited her very funny poem Lonely Heart Sads like a Liverpool Poet (though she’s London-based), over Downes’ fine Oscar Peterson-style blues. ‘Mute acrobat, likes long tightrope walks in the country, seeks retired lip-reader with his own ambulance.’
But love triumphed sometimes; in Sugar Sugar, Gillespie sang provocatively, ‘Life’s a peach, ripe for the picking…With your hand on the wheel/and your name in my mouth/I watch you unlace from the north to the south’- Kerouac meets Donne, with a catchy melody that could be by KT Tunstall . How the Mighty are Fallen had some fine rhymes, recalling Cole Porter- an early influence: ‘I had me a lover when I was alone/ He was a hell of a honey/ with no draconian baloney’, and excellent rock piano. Stalking Juliet concluded, from her first album- sung with all her energy, sometimes stopping her strong rhythmic guitar to gesticulate wildly.
Lovers of singer-songwriters with attitude, such as Ani DiFranco and Fiona Apple, will find a lot to enjoy here. Jazz is blended in with the blues and folk: the tunes and pungent images get into your head and hang around. Atzmon called her a ‘jazz wordsmith, a poetic rebel’. She’s also a fine guitarist and ardent performer.
Support was from talented singer-guitarist Ally Craig duetting with Kit Downes, singing his own imaginative lyrics in a beautifully fragile voice, even performing a song by Downes.
CD Launch 10th & 11th July 2013 Pizza Express, Dean St., London (and touring)