Liz Green, and Jessica Alice, at The Bicycle Shop, Norwich, 24 June 2013, review.
I think I have been blessed in the gigs I have attended this year, I am probably due to attend a real stinker but hope it does not happen anytime soon as I am enjoying this fine run far too much, and all the great new music I am being exposed to.
Tonight’s gig is one I have to especially thank Ian Hudson and Jess Wilson for, and by proxy, Sam Leonard. Ian put on this gig and it was Jess who converted me to the music of Liz Green, her enthusiastic description and excitement at her support slot was more than enough to make me investigate. Before the end of the first track (Hey Joe) of her magnificent album, Oh Devotion, I was totally hooked and in awe. And it was Sam who introduced Jess to her.
First on tonight, however, was Jess Wilson herself (aka Jessica Alice) on a night without PA nor electrical lighting, just acoustic by candlelight. Unfortunately I missed her set at the Glorious Gardens weekend performing at the Plantation Garden, but I did see her with Milly at the Plasterers last week and was keen to hear her again. In just such a short time I noticed a difference. Tonight’s gig was obviously in the more familiar surroundings of the Handlebar but even so I noticed a greater confidence and assurance in her voice and delivery. The intimate atmosphere and acoustics of the Bicycle Shop, even totally unplugged, suited her well. For this evening the room had been rearranged slightly. For those familiar with the venue, the piano had been moved to the wall adjacent the bar, and the area previously used for the stage now just had a couch and cushions on the floor. So Jess was in the centre of the room and performed a gorgeous set, her voice sounding rich and very expressive. Her penultimate song was a cover of ‘Firecracker’ by Frazey Ford of the Be Good Tanyas and it sounded sublime. She got through this with no trouble, after a few minor issues on previous occasions. Her voice was especially expressive and strong on this one and I think the set as a whole was her most confident so far of the times I have seen and heard her. I hope she goes from strength to strength, she is a lovely person and seems to be on a creative roll at the moment, which is a fine thing to witness. She told me she was feeling a bit nervous again but it was a delight to see an artist feeling the euphoria of creative expression and rediscovering the joy of playing, performing and sharing. I believe Jess is a new talent who will develop and blossom and it will be fascinating and pleasurable to watch.
On first hearing of Liz Green, I was struck by a feeling of listening to music from another era, perhaps Victorian, part travelling carnival, occasional polka and circus beats with the trombone on the recordings, and such songs of tragedy and apocalypse. Upon first hearing it is easy to fall into the lazy trap of comparing her voice to that of Antony Hegarty, but that is to realise that comparisons can be just absurd, she is incomparable as one will find with deeper and more careful listens, she has her own and very unique identity but the listener will detect moments of jazzy, dark storytelling chanson and cabaret.
Tonight she took to the ‘stage’ which was in fact just the centre area of the floor, and picked up her invisible banjo, which she inherited in a trade with a former housemate! She clearly did well in this trade as she is taking the banjo on tour with her! By turns tonight she played guitar (visible and audible) and piano, at times moving to the bottom of the staircase to be able to address different audience members.
As I mentioned earlier, it was Jess and Ian who introduced me to the unique talent that is Liz Green, in turn they were introduced by Sam Leonard. I can only thank them all for this, as hearing her in a venue like this was a magical experience and a privilege. She is in the process of recording her new album and was showcasing some of the tracks. At least two of these totally beguiled me. She has a most lovely stage presence and describes and introduces her songs with the knack and enchantment of a true storyteller. The first of these was the song about all the awkward and ‘broken’ people who sail on a boat to an island where they all feel at ease and better together, and can pass through a tunnel and feel comfortable. This ship has a hole in it but I hope all the passengers reach the destination and their salvation, it really touched me. The other song to make a big impression on me was the tale of the old dying lady who is the last person alive still speaking her language, with no family or friends to teach the language to she neither has anyone she can speak to nor listen to. It is tragic and I hope she was a passenger on the boat.
The audience greeted the end of her set which was rapturous and insistent, demanding an encore. Explaining that she grew up as a fan of the Manic Street Preachers, who didn’t do encores “until they got old, like me, so I will do one too”, and she chose to end with a cover of David Bowie’s “Five Years”, introduced as “a glam rock apocalypic lullaby”. When performers do covers it is always nice if they add a different element or in some way better the original. In this case I can honestly say that I think Liz succeeded on both counts. The words clear, somehow more poignant and foreboding than the original in this pared down version with just her voice and guitar. Nothing could possibly have followed this but the applause lasted for several minutes at the close of a most special night at the Bicycle Shop.
I think Liz Green is someone special too, sensitive and a dreamer, someone who has retained that very precious childlike quality that society likes to knock out of us, of being able to indulge and believe our dreams, and write about them. I was fortunate enough to chat for a while to her afterwards, and she did in fact tell me that one of her songs came to her fully formed in a dream. I love hearing things like this and hope more will come to her. She has a beautiful gift of telling her stories and fairytales in a most engaging and magical way. The songs are largely sad, melancholic, tragic, or even apocalyptic but she has such an endearing awkwardness about her that far from being depressing, I found it oddly uplifting by recognition.
Whilst writing this review I have been listening to her album as a soundtrack, as I like to do when writing about an artist, and like the best works it totally transports you into the world being described, which was most certainly the case this evening. During her set nobody left the room and nobody even ordered a drink. Such silence and attention was there in the audience.
In the week or so I have been listening to her music, I have already fallen in love with her dark and tragic yet magical world, but the new songs seem even more breathtaking in their majestic melancholy and tragedy. The words and storytelling are magnificent but Wow does she deliver in her own unique and brilliant way too! Songs for the shy, awkward, marginalised out of kilter dreamers with the power to believe. I think there were a lot of kindred spirits present tonight, the Bicycle Shop is almost always extremely respectful to performers and listen quietly, but I have never known it quite so silent during performances, nor so dark, so please excuse the quality of photography!
words and photos by richard shashamane 2013
Thanks to Dreams Music, The Bicycle Shop, and of course Liz Green and Jess Wilson