Music / Reviews

Review: Yola Carter, Wardrobe

By Jonathon Kardasz , Friday Dec 9, 2016

We’re living in truly screwed up neo fascist times post Brexit & post Trump, the media having defined these times as post Truth and this is clearly a concept that Lady Nade is familiar with as her opening address to the crowd was very post Truth. Armed with an acoustic she apologised in advance for playing miserable songs and tunes of heartbreak that would “…leave a snail trail of misery in the room before Yola plays her sad songs”. She went on to introduce opening cut Hard to Forget as an autobiographical number about her inability to get over a previous relationship, and the resulting confusion and sadness. With exquisite timing she then gazed in to the crowd to simply say “Hello Martin”. Naturally, the crowd dissolved into laughter at the (seeming) outing of Martin. Nade, through fits of laughter, attempted to explain that Martin was not the song’s subject but rather a friendly face she was acknowledging to assuage her nerves. This set the tone for the whole set as rather than a snail trail of misery the crowd were enraptured by a set of heart-warming & life affirming tunes accompanied by hilarity and raucous laughter.

Nade played a six tune set – drawn from her LP Hard to Forget – the solo acoustic format allowing the craftsmanship of the songs to shine for the enchanted crowd. The title track opened proceedings and once completed Nade confessed to having eaten two bags of crisps before the show and requested a coughing break to clear her larynx, inducing more belly laughs. Despite the savoury snack abuse Nade was in splendid vocal form all night. She has a refreshing voice that’s difficult to pin down – certainly an element of jazz; there’s a bucket of soul and even country inflections, with echoes of the classic singer / songwriters from the early seventies. Her style is almost retro in fact, beautiful diction allowing the words to ring out above her melodious picking and strumming. She has a knack with the words too, “When you’re out of your depth, maybe it’s time to take a breath” (Those Late Nights) just one of a dozen evocative couplets and phrases.

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This was a classic little set, far from miserable (how miserable can a night be when the singer leaves the stage to fetch and show off a customised jar of Nutella?), each song memorable (particularly the sensual Kiss This Troubled Mind, a slinky little earworm), delivered by an engaging performer who connected with the crowd and even elicited a singalong during her last number. Nade is working on new material with a late summer due date and charmingly revealed that she is working up a recipe to accompany all of her songs: food for the body and food for the soul.

Yola Carter has had a peach of a year, a packed solo show launching her solo work, superb support slots with Sam Outlaw and St Paul & the Broken Bones, not to mention the small matter of crossing the pond to take the States by storm when she stole both the show and the headlines at September’s Americana Fest in Nashville (“The breakout performance” according to The Guardian). The show tonight was all about her first official release Orphan Offering. She opened the set with Kit Hawes on lead guitar & Harry Harding on acoustic and Dead and Gone, describing the travails of a musician with a luscious rendition of a catchy tune, and then proceeded to frame her songs in as much laughter as Nade had hers. So one song done she was referring to back ache caused by these “bad boys” (her décolletage rather than Hawes and Harding) and informing all present that she had out sourced her guitar playing to the pair during song writing and performance.

The rest of the band (Aaron Catlow, fiddle; John Blakely, drums & Jon Short, bass) joined the trio for Home and provided backing that was respectful to the songs yet both loose and technically adept, the band clearly enjoying the set and given room to solo and improvise throughout – Catlow shining on Fly Away, with Carter crediting him for the hook, said credit well deserved as whilst you can get a jab to fight off the flu there’s no inoculation gonna stop that hook from infecting your ears and feet. The full band really came in to its own during Born Again aka Harmony-Harmony Shout-Shout an incredibly literal alternative title as the song structure was indeed beautiful harmonies and then full blooded gospel hollering, all over a bedrock of Bonzo drums. They also proved capable of conjouring up a lovely trad country sound for What You Do (trad dad but far from conservative or saccharine) and putting some spice in to Carter’s much loved “fuck you” song Mitch Thompson, a fine a song as ever a “scumbag” has inspired.

Carter was in fine form throughout, despite her almost slapstick in-between songs behaviour (tuning turning into a comedy sketch; surreal comedy monologues; winding up the players and beating out the tempo on various body parts to count the band in) she ran a tight ship. There were shades of James Brown as Carter controlled the tunes with subtle nods, hand signals and the odd hip shake.

Naturally the evening was all about Carter and her voice, but consulting my notes I see that during the first song there’s a note “fuckin’ harmonies”; mid set (Take Heed) the same phrase in capitals and later still it’s in capitals and underlined. Twice. Carter, Harding & Hawes (now there’s a firm I’d trust with my legal business) really have the three part harmonies nailed, they could sing a Farage speech and make it sound appealing. But don’t just take my word for it: Sam Outlaw commented at his gig “…Crosby, Stills, Nash and woooaahhhh….” which is admittedly more eloquent and descriptive than “fuckin’ harmonies”.

The last song was introduced with a hilariously surreal commentary on the oft nonsensical pantomime of a band leaving the stage and returning for an encore that culminated with Carter suggesting the band were heading off to hyper sleep on the international space station. Prior to their departure skywards they bounced their way through an incredibly danceable Free to Roam, its infectious sixties groove enhanced by a Tele lead that shared a lot of DNA with Pretty Woman. After the requisite departure and cries for more, the band returned to close the night with a glorious cover of The Weight (“We’re gonna make it greasy”), ending a fabulous evening, proving once again that Carter is an incredible talent and has both the band and tunes to take the nation by storm given half the chance.

Afterword: The Wardrobe was a marvellous setting for the show, intimate, fantastic atmosphere & acoustics and its L shaped seating set up made for an unusual but effective seating arrangement. I’m probably risking the wrath of the theatre going community by suggesting this, but it would be fabulous to see more semi-acoustic shows in this place. 

All pix John Morgan

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