I went to see Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo at Hoxton Hall, just north of the City, on Friday night. It was the last of three gigs in London featuring songs from the forthcoming album, “Dear River”. It’s an album on which Emily reflects on the pull of home – place, people, memories. Home is Western Australia, although she has lived in the UK for 12 years now. The Blackwood River has a special place in her heart – hence the title of the new album, I think.
While the subject matter of the album is wistful, the sound is rockier, more up tempo. More electric guitar, with cellist Jo Silverston plugging in the bass guitar a lot more. And there’s a drummer, Nat Butler. There are some rousing choruses which I expect will become favourites in time. They were well received tonight.
Hoxton Hall is a funny kind of venue. It’s a small theatre hall, I think. It’s neither intimate pub, nor grand space in the style of the Union hall, where I last saw Emily and the band. The gig was a sell out, but there were no more than a couple of hundred people, who might not have filled the space out had the staff not brought out loads of chairs just before the show started. There was a brief support slot, from a singer songwriter whose name I didn’t catch and her sidekick on slide guitar. They made some nice sounds but didn’t get a lot of time to make a big impression. And some of the introductions made you stare at your feet: “This one’s about my mother when she was going through the menopause”: “This one’s about my parents, who haven’t been in the same room for 15 years” were my favourites. Oh dear!
But hey, once Emily and the band were into their stride, that was all forgotten. There was a nice mix of new songs and old favourites (I can call them that now – I’d never heard any of them a year ago!). I’m not great at picking out titles of songs I haven’t previously heard, but I liked the way “Letters” built to a climax, and the way that “Sleeping Horses”, which recalled childhood impressions, featured more of that lovely strummed electric guitar which helps make “Pause” such a wonderful song. And I’m glad to say Emily played that one – it wouldn’t be the same without it. There was a passionate song, with more electric guitar, about the native people of Australia, called “Spadeful of Ground”, and a touching paean to that favourite river, “Blackwood”.
There was a nice touch, too, when Emily’s husband (Dom, I think) came on to sing the Frank Turner parts on “Fields of June”. He really went for it and I’d say it was the liveliest moment of the gig. Then he returned to the back of the hall, where you could se him watching his wife in admiration. Who wouldn’t?
Yeah, it was just all so good, as ever. I’ve seen Emily and the band four times now over the past year and have loved every minute of every concert. It’s the mix of beautiful songs, wonderful playing from all the band and Emily’s aching, tender vocals. And a sense that they are all really enjoying themselves. You can’t help but smile with them.
Can’t wait to hear the new album!