Chris T-T, She Makes War, Paul Goodwin and Sophie Jamieson at The Portland Arms, Cambridge

A Green Mind Gigs promotion

Wednesday 9th May 2012

She Makes War

I should come clean at the outset: I knew about this gig because She Makes War, of whose music I’ve been a fan for some time, put it on her website, and as it’s in my old stamping ground, it seemed an ideal opportunity to finally find out what she does live. It was only the day before the gig that I discovered Chris T-T was headlining, and I would guess that he’s just slightly too famous for me to have heard of him, with my warped and inverted approach to cultural discovery… I had no idea there was anyone else on the bill until I got there, but as it turned out, all four acts were well worth hearing.

Sophie Jamieson writes thoughtful songs and performs them with her voice and an acoustic guitar. She seemed excessively self-deprecating, apologising for one perfectly good (in fact rather lovely) song in advance… I guess this was a sign of relative inexperience; performance is the best vaccine for a lack of confidence and her guitar playing, while quite shapely and sophisticated, displayed a few rough edges in the execution that some time on the road would rub off soon enough. The material and arrangements were all there, however, and any other considerations seemed trivial once I heard her voice, a sweet and well modulated instrument, which she employed with considerable skill; I intend no criticism of the other performers when I say that hers was decidedly the best voice of the night.

Chris T-T

Paul Goodwin has a rare talent of conveying deep passion and commitment without any melodrama or histrionics, his every vocal line delivered with, and his body language imbued with an abject sincerity that verged on the uncomfortably honest. His songs are novelistic and observational, with the wry, critical distance of the semi-outsider, that member of a social group that’s quite happy on the fringe. Between vocal lines there were a lot of shifty looks from side to side, as though he was concerned someone was about to find him out or expose him… for what, I have no idea, but proponents of confessional art often, and understandably, display a degree of self doubt; his songs certainly give the impression that they draw quite ruthlessly on his own experience. His guitar playing and singing are clearly means to an end, and don’t draw attention to themselves; the songs are intelligent, funny and frequently touching, with some very well turned phrases.

As I said at the outset, I’m very well acquainted with She Makes War’s recorded output, which is quite intricately assembled, and I was filled with curiosity as to how she would realise her material live. She took a variety of approaches, from the straightforward strum-and-sing to the clever layering of vocal loops. The loop pedal was definitely her secret weapon in presenting her material, enabling a really varied and engaging set of arrangements; I hadn’t really noticed how many of her songs are based round short, repeated chord sequences, which she was able to bang out quickly on her ukulele before switching to guitar. ‘Delete’, from her latest Little Battles was a high point for me, with its clever and appealing layers of vocal rhythms. A couple of songs were delivered without trickery via a graunchily (I may have just invented that word) distorted Telecaster, at volumes that were ear-bleeding by the standards of the otherwise acoustic night. And I happen to be very keen on electric guitars at ear-bleeding volumes (especially Telecasters, also the weapon of choice of Rose Kemp, one of my favourite musicians of all time, who I was slightly reminded of by this brief outbreak of racket). She Makes War is a consummate performer, who looks after every aspect of her presentation, from the visual to the sonic, in great detail; she’s a real musician’s musician, never missing a chance to improve an arrangement with a well judged tweak, although her songs all stand up extremely well on their own. I was slightly surprised by her stage demeanour, I have to admit, which was considerably more nervous than I anticipated; I guess I’d expected  supreme confidence from someone whose branding and online presentation is so brilliantly executed, but her manner was approachable and appealing. Her set was definitely the night’s acme of awesomeness (sorry Chris), and it was well worth the wait to finally hear her in the flesh.

And so to the headline act. Chris T-T resorts to no technical wizardry or visual gimmicks; he is a singer songwriter, who stands at the mic with an acoustic guitar and sings the songs he’s written. We’ll come back to the songs, but what set his performance apart from the acts that preceded him was his easy confidence, and consequent charisma; this man is clearly as happy on stage as off it (or he’s a damned fine actor). Although some of his songs are very funny, you wouldn’t call them comedy, but his whole schtick on stage might have been honed in comedy clubs; it’s conceivable that he thought he was just punching the clock at work, and was really just thinking about curling up in bed with a book on 1960s trolley-buses, but the impression he gave was that he was enjoying himself enormously, and there’s nothing better for getting an audience behind you. (Figuratively speaking, that is; obviously the best way to get the audience behind you is to face the back of the stage). The songs Chris T-T is known for (according to my painstaking research) are of a political bent; the ones he played on this occasion certainly had some political content, but they also had a great deal of witty, and sometimes surreal, humour in them, and some were concerned with that great obsession of songwriters, love. (Honestly, there are books about love, but there are also books about late medieval social history: why does no-one write songs about that?) There’s not too much to say about the songs, which are musically conservative in both composition and delivery, except that they are simply very good, and frequently profound. This is a man who takes seriously his responsibilities to his audience, making them laugh, making them think, and above all entertaining them; I’m pleased to have come across him, and will be keeping an eye on his activities in the future.

Photo credits: I stole them from the artists’ Facebook pages, because the ones I took on my phone were shit.

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