Michelle Shocked

‘Audience ‘Chelle-Shocked!’ might be an apposite tabloid splash for this evening’s super-scoop booking by World Unlimited. (Nothwithstanding the tabloids having neither the wit or vision to appreciate anything other than X Factor puerile-pouting pap.) Ms. Shocked’s serendipitous ‘discovery’ and subsequent rise to prominence after the release of ‘The Texas Campfire Tapes’ was part of the 1980 Roots/World Music zeitgeist. A time when the like of Andy Kershaw and his stalwart contemporaries were wading crocodile-infested rivers in far-flung locations, Sony Walkman and malarial-looned sound-crews in hand, to tap in to ancient and contemporary ethnic grooves.

And, just to prove that the ‘Campfire Tapes’ weren’t just an upstart ‘picker-poet’s’ flash in the pan of illusory fools’-gold – along came the pithily titled, ‘Short, Sharp Shocked’ (1988) that wove a multi-hued tapestry of Folk/Roots autobiographical and sanguine Americana reflections including perhaps, her most notable singles hit, ‘Anchorage‘.  Which, perchance, coincided with Joan Armatrading’s ‘Talkin‘ Bout A Revolution’; Section 28 preventing local authorities from “promoting homosexuality” and the abolition of dog licences. (Gaze but a moment in to the atrophied Tory mind-set.)

There’s an informal suggested song practice before the main set begins (there were four in all). Ms S making the point that sing-alongs sustain the communal spirit during times of adversity. This being a time of ‘war’ against austerity and poverty. Thus, from the outset, she nails her campaigning, hands-on social-conscience, colours firmly to the mast. Something she returns to throughout the evening with increasing conviction but never proselytising. ‘I don’t do love, I do cities,’ she explains in way of contextualising some of her songs. Well, perhaps not.

No saving the hits for the encore – she’s straight in to an extended, ten minutes or more, extended, acoustic version of ‘Anchorage’ paired-up with Pete O’Toole on a bouzoukie/mandolin hybrid. Setting the pattern for the rest of the evening it’s very much audience participation. Introducing ‘Memories Of East Texas’ she concedes she’s proud to be a ‘Hillbilly’ -’…’but a sophisticated one, ya-awl mind!’ This folksy, blueberry-pie idiom might just have seemed a little contrived but for the fact she draws the crowd in with such convincing sincerity, conviction and passion that what you see is what’s she’s giving. And, of course that dreamy, sashay smiling funky groove. There’s an engaging anecdote about a guy wanting to be her Facebook ‘friend’ many years after dumping her (in all her finery) minutes before the Senior Prom. ‘But, hey! Thirty years later – I’m over it!’ Reid Hall – Birmingham, UK says SHAME on you, boy!

‘Graffiti Limbo‘ segues into a barbed-wire brittle blues and monologue relating to the death in custody of a NY young black man, Michael Stewart. She highlight the situation of Wikileaks, Bradley Manning*, consumed within a high-security nightmare of the US Marine base, Quantico – ‘security’, of course being a relative term.

Sadly, sans double-bass, ‘When I Grow Up’ didn’t quite have that sur-real, primal shiver the album version has but punters made up for it with howling monkey sound effects and general dis-abandonment.

There’s a brief, and needy refreshment, merchandise and re-tuning break before part two. This is predicated with a background introduction to her collaboration with portrait painter, David Willardson, whose four ‘Indelible Women’ enlargements formed the stage back-drop. She moves to keyboards to explore a medley of nuanced, reflective new songs in progress taking time out to highlight the ‘Occupy’ movements’ campaigns against corrosive personal debts allied to endorsed Corporate avarice which culminates in wry spoof on of ‘Fifty Ways To Loathe Your Lender’.

The closing brief set of requests features the scrawny, urban stray-cat walking blues ‘Fogtown’ with syncopated Django Reinhard cool solos, and the juvenile pyrotechnic confessional ‘VFD’. Inevitably, Ms S submits to the plaintive punter’s request for  a reprise, communal singing of ‘Anchorage’. Encore was the widow/mother’s visceral, acapella rendition of ‘My Name Is Penny Evans’ – a Vietnam anti-war ballad sang in the middle of the transfixed audience illuminated by a flickering iPhone candle app.

Gig Review by John Kennedy
Michelle Shocked by Daron Billings

*Air-Gap. Chilling BBC Radio 4X drama about Manning’s incarceration.

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