Review: Beth Orton – The Glee Club

Beth Orton

Beth Orton

By Steve Beauchampé.

Review: Beth Orton – The Glee Club, Monday April 11th 2011

In recent years one might describe Beth Orton’s trajectory as less career progression than careering. Since the release of her third studio album, 2002’s Daybreaker, the Norfolk-born alt. folk singer and sometime Mercury Music Prize and Brit Award nominee has produced just one further studio album (Comfort of Strangers, 2006), played live only intermittently (including the Moseley Folk Festival in 2009), cancelled or rescheduled various shows (and at least one tour) and disappeared below many people’s radar. New material has been hinted at, but it’s spring 2011 and we seem no nearer that elusive fifth album.

Not that Beth Orton has gone all Amy Winehouse on us, losing the plot, falling out of taxis and nightclubs and living a life of folk and roll excess. Rather the opposite in fact; although she’s suffered some minor illness, Orton’s absence is mainly because she’s been revelling in the joys of bringing up baby. So much so that as she takes to the stage of a packed Glee Club it’s immediately apparent that her first-born is soon to have a sibling.

“Hello”, she says, “I’m just going to play some songs.” Someone’s Daughter from debut album Trailer Park is the first of them and Orton’s fragile, rural-esque vocals, tonight enhanced with more than a hint of sniffle (that girl, she’s always under the weather!) instantly envelopes the auditorium, wrapping themselves around our ears on this rather chill night.

She Cries Your Name and Touch Me With Your Love follow, both also culled from Trailer Park. Dating from the mid-1990s, a period when Orton was the coolest name in the folk genre, collaborating with The Chemical Brothers and William Orbit, but tonight the trippiness of the originals, the folktronica tag attached to Orton’s early music, is absent. Accompanied by just an acoustic guitar, the melody and lyrics are now everything, the songs received just as one might imagine they sounded when first penned.

New song Candles, “One of several works in progress, though it’s not really ready”, is next up. Well, it sounds ready enough to me. It’s one of the evening’s highlights, Orton’s urgent, hoarse vocals featuring the repeated passage: “I just found another way to cry.” Perched on a chair, sipping from a mug of tea between songs and with her long hair tied back, Beth Orton looks relaxed, chatting to the audience about the drawbacks of being six months pregnant.

Sweetest Decline from Orton’s sophomore offering Central Reservation (1999) is just as good shorn of its musical trimmings as when decorated with them, testament to the fundamental strength of the composition’s basic elements. Two songs from the somewhat overlooked Comfort of Strangers album – Conceived and Shopping Trolley – precede Concrete Sky, one of many understated, slow burners on Daybreaker. Canadian Sam Amidon, who is opening for Beth Orton on this short tour, joins her to supply additional guitar and vocals and stays for Sugar Boy, another Trailer Park crowd pleaser.

Solo again for Safe In Your Arms and then the second of this evening’s works in progress. Dark and insistent, no title is given (the lyric “I ain’t going to leave you alone” features heavily) but the rendition augurs well should she feel inclined to record and release it.

Blood Red River (another stand out track from Central Reservation) follows; blimey, it’s easy to forget how good these songs are! The sound engineer’s doing a fine job, but in four previous live performances I’ve never heard Beth Orton sing so assuredly as she does this evening.

Desolate heartbreaker I Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine, a hit for The Ronettes, produces a ‘senior’ moment, Orton forgetting a particular chord sequence that leads to the tune breaking down. No one minds and blip overcome we move on to Central Reservation’s title track, followed by Stolen Car, as fine as song as Beth Orton has yet written. The performance ends with Ooh Child, a 1970s soul song by The Five Stairsteps, featured on Orton’s rather hard to find Other Side of Daybreak compilation album and: “One of my favourite songs ever.”

So tonight we find Beth Orton playing songs she enjoys for no reason other than that she likes singing them (and I guess that it also helps pay the bills), much as musicians and strolling minstrels did before there were albums that needed to be toured. Catch her at the Leamington Assembly this Friday, because after that the demands of motherhood may mean that she won’t this way come for a little while.