Gig Review by Andrew Lindsay with Photography by Tony Butterworth

Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo

Built as a ‘gentleman’s social and recreational club’ in 1913, the Brudenell in the Hyde Park area of Leeds is a warm and intimate venue regularly showcasing the best upcoming musical talent. Members of tonight’s audience are mostly in their late thirties through to late fifties; seated at tables and respectfully appreciative.

Chris T-T
Chris T-TChris T-T

Thoughtfully introduced by Emily Barker, the support act is Chris T-T. Brighton-based he’s been gigging for quite some time and recently released his ninth album: ‘The Bear’. Looking not altogether dissimilar to said album title (more Grizzly than Pooh), Chris’s calling cards are a warm engaging voice, long narrative songs and oodles of chutzpah. This is amply demonstrated by his second number delivered acapella:  A.A. Milne’s poem ‘Lines and Squares’. It is a surprise that works. That’s followed by ‘A Beaten Drum’ which he describes as ‘a miserable song from my new album’. It is supremely tender and beautifully sung; Chris’s best performance of the evening.

Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo

Next up is another Milne poem ‘Market Square’. Chris talks a lot between songs and admits that he has dropped a number from his set to make way for all the patter. It is a good decision. Emily Barker joins him for a duet on ‘Gulls’ which is followed by ‘Tall Woman’ on the subject of Alzheimer’s (not too many songs on that subject…at least not yet).

Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo

Chris works best when on piano singing his more reflective, melodic and less wordy narratives. There’s a shortage of good tunes but the crowd are entertained and Chris seems content with enjoying himself and not bothering about his ‘brand management’.

Emily Barker and the Red Clay HaloEmily Barker and the Red Clay Halo

Altogether more focussed are Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo. Now signed to Linn Records and with decent promotion behind the new album they mean business. ‘Dear River’ is Emily’s fourth album since her 2006 debut and it is a blend of country and folk influences with a smattering of Leonard Cohen and Neil Young. In her words the music is ‘quite haunting… atmospheric strings and accordion with a classical feel weaving around folk instruments of banjo, harmonica and guitar’.

Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo

The Red Clay Halo Band (named appropriately after a Gillian Welch song) comprises of Anna Jenkins on violin; Gill Sandell on accordion, piano and flute and the expression rich Jo Silverston on cello, bass and banjo. All are highly accomplished musicians, harmonise beautifully and clearly mesh having been together for some eight years. Unobtrusive drums are provided by Nat Butler.

Emily Barker and the Red Clay HaloEmily Barker and the Red Clay Halo

They open with the title track from the new album and follow that with ‘Ropes’; a variation on the theme of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘April Come She Will’.  Three more from the new album follow and all relate to its central concept of ‘Home’. ‘Tuesday’, about refugees fleeing from violent conflict, features some fabulous violin reminiscent of Scarlet Rivera’s playing on Dylan’s ‘Desire’.  ‘Letters’ was pieced together from written fragments recovered from her Dutch grandfather who hid out from the Nazis for three years during WW2 before finally emigrating to S.W. Australia. Emily, as a result, is a born and bred Aussie now resident in England and not just another girl from East Texas. ‘A Spadeful of Ground’ is a pretty tune that is at odds with its bloody story of colonial land grabbing from Australia’s indigenous population.

Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo

Her best known song ‘Nostalgia’ is introduced as having ‘nothing to do with crime in southern Sweden’. Written in Australia it was refashioned to become the theme tune of ‘Wallander’ (the Kenneth Branagh version) owing to its portentous and haunting gloom.

Exit The Red Clay Halo leaving Emily to perform a couple of tunes solo. They are notable for her sweet high voice but are less affecting. The show works better with the band. They return for ‘Pause’ and show off their impressive four part harmonies.  ‘Ghost Narrative’, another strong track from the new album, features harmonica from Emily and fine accordion and violin.  Another special moment as the instruments soar for an epic coda. More opportunities for the musicians to stretch out and solo would really enhance the set. The ensemble playing is great but these are top players and they should be allowed to show off more. And even more harmonising would not go amiss…they are so good at it.

Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo

Closing number, ‘The Backwood’, starts off with a memorable acapella introduction. Three encores quickly follow: ‘In The Winter I Returned’ featuring Emily’s strong yet delicate vocal; a murder ballad ‘Fields of June’ on which Twitter/Facebook fan Anna Sowden guests (a fan is apparently invited to join the band each night). Anna opens the songs before it flows into some stunning musical interplay between cello and violin. She does a great job and hats off to Emily for engaging her audience in this way. It was great fun. The night closes with a Red Clay Halo take on Aretha Franklin’s ‘Do Right Woman’. They do it slow and country soulful with a plaintive lead vocal,  gorgeous violin fills and tip top harmonies. A stunning close to a great evening.

Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo

Setlist: Dear River; Ropes; Tuesday; Letters; A Spadeful of Ground; Home; Nostalgia; Pause; Ghost Narrative; Disappear; The Backwood; In The Winter I Returned; Fields of June; Do Right Woman.

One Response to “Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo + Chris T-T at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, UK – 10th November 2013”

  1. Caro Says:

    I was there and I loved these ladies and this great review and these fab photos sum it up perfectly! Well done lads! Keep ’em coming.

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