Thursday, 12 July 2012

Anna Calvi

I'll be clear right from the start - everything that was happening on the Somerset House stage was brilliant. I loved the gothic country of the support, Cold Specks. Not afraid to leave a little space in the sound - often a good sign. I was moved to get their CD at the 'merch' stand. (Before it washed away.)

And Calvi herself (understand I'm not an unbiased, detached observer) was simply splendid. Against all the odds - and I've already hinted at the 'odds' - the sound mix was superb, and if anything her vocals were stronger and guitar playing more dazzling and idiosyncratic than when I saw her last at Shepherd's Bush Empire. Even the projections - fire, planets, eclipses, on a huge screen behind the band - were spot on, adding to the aching smoulder Calvi specialises in generating.

But... For those of you who don't know, Somerset House is a very attractive pile on the north bank of the Thames. The current buildings go back to the late 18th century, and now contain an arts complex (including the celebrated Courtauld Gallery). In summer, it acts as a venue for its yearly series of concerts in its quadrangle. In other words, it's outside. The big bit without a roof. En plein air.

In July, this shouldn't be a problem, but this hasn't been one of your 'drier' Julys. (Julies?) I walked as quickly as possible along the Strand towards the venue - all by myself, incidentally. (Mrs Specs rarely goes to any kind of concert without seating. If she turned up somewhere to find there was no roof either, we'd probably be looking at the 'full Lady Bracknell'.) So, with no distracting conversation to make, I couldn't help but notice that I was turning slowly into a wet rag, from what seemed like the inside out. My dismal cagoule - in which I look like Kenny from South Park trapped in a black and white film set in a post-apocalyptic future - seemed simply to be helping the rain pour down my neck in a more efficient, scooping motion. And I hadn't even got there yet.

I'm a tireless crowd-watcher at gigs I attend on my own, and after all these years, I still get surprised by some of the 'mass behaviour' I see. For example, I wore a coat with a hood. 90% of the folk there dressed for a summer jaunt, but carried ENORMOUS umbrellas. So by the time the gig was in full swing, hundreds of brollies were up and no-one could see anything. Not just me, for once (I'm only vertical up to a certain point) - pretty much everyone there was just staring full face into a vast expanse of fabric. And yet, no-one seemed to mind.

The rain just got heavier and heavier. I was eyeing the dry ice and wondering about climbing inside it. The hardcore Calvinists seemed oblivious, and were probably keeping themselves relatively dry as they all huddled nearer the stage, brollies still aloft. A good many times, Calvi launched into songs that were so riveting and powerful that I almost forgot I should be fishing some armbands out of the rucksack. I can't really pay her a higher compliment.

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