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Charlotte Church

Live in Brighton

Airing new material and now working live with her other half, Charlotte Church is midway through a set of UK dates at festivals and smaller, funkier venues. And enjoying almost every minute, from talking to her either side of tonight’s show. It’s no great secret that I am a CC fan, I have all her recordings, the most recent of which are the ‘Tissues & Issues’ pop/rock with some hits album and the later, more introspective but certainly transitional album ‘Back To Scratch’ which celebrated the joy of living on the beguiling and warm version of ‘Ruby’ and on some other cuts showed the less-masked-than-she realised pain of a changed life and probably changed priorities.  Nothing matters more to this girl than her children, that much is clear. Offspring love a parent to be busy and creative, as Church will acknowledge more and more. So where is her talent taking her now ?……not towards pop as we know it, Jim

Consider : the best known ‘girl band’ (for ‘band’ read ‘grouping’, you can’t call it a choir) in pop in the UK has lasted ten years odd ( mostly off the road) and doesn’t write its own material. It is planned, trained and dressed like a circus act by others and includes a nightclub toilet brawler who couldn’t carry a tune in a B&Q bucket, a good Irish singer who doesn’t need AutoTune, a ginger confused ghost, a notorious drunk and..er ..someone else. Bland tunes at the same BPM and played on the same synthesizers to create a wodge of radio-friendly nursery rhymes by the likes of this fire-in-a-petshop sounding crew have begat the characterless playlist fodder we endure today. Would you cross the road to see Katy Perry, Lixie Pott, Justin Beaver’s new minx ? I wouldn’t.  Whilst the slightly superior but just as manufactured Sugarbabes have no original members and are in effect a franchise as participants come and go.  I have put my name down for being a Sugarbabe Sept-Dec 2023, as I don’t see why I should miss out….anyway, gossip magazine fodder all. Now is there any place in this melee for a girl who can sing and sing almost anything but moreover knows the value of and can execute the light&shade that sophisticated compositions require ?  Less and less so, I fear.  After all, this lass rescued the soundtrack of the film ‘A Beautiful Mind’ with clear and soaring soprano on James Horner’s score, completing the tracks in short order, when a well-known Vegas-bound singer baled out of the project ( after tonight’s show, Church graciously signs my s/t album perhaps covering up any surprise on her part that a psychedelic guitarist might choose to own it)

The opening act is splendid and his album will be reviewed here soon ; the middle act appalling beyond belief even for thrash deathbed metal, of which your scribe has seen plenty. Let’s hope they learn to play together and find a singer before performing again, yet to their credit they seemed great pals and might not be far off being listenable.

Jonathan Powell and his musicians take the stage to prepare. I had been talking to him just  before the evening started about his own quirky album (three weeks to record he says and not the many months I had assumed) and trying not to openly show any jealousy that he was the chanteuse’s Favoured One. I think he gets ribbed by many for his good fortune. But without him I guess none of these new songs would have happened/developed. He seems an unselfish type, willing to make others sound their best…One of Us then, spotlight grabbers always look cheap.

The CC band are ready. They look as though they have some to fix the plumbing but the arsenal of keys, bass, drums, guitars, violins et al is put to good use. The material goes from a whisper to a (tuneful) scream and all points between.  Charlotte has a foxy rubber-spiked black top on for the performance  ; her blonde hairdo on the edge of unruly, her smile bursting through between the overall sombre/intense songs. It’s serious stuff, but the cheeky banter between numbers cannot be suppressed, references to gargling honey and all. A layered vocal pattern swells up before the beat of the first song ‘The Rise’ pounds in. Twinkling keys dance around the tempo.

‘Beautiful Wreck’ has a thumping beat, Church grips the mike like a weapon. Powell and the other players chime in on vocals…fourths, fifths and sevenths enrich the base tones. Emphatic guitar here and there. All sounding magical, at times other-worldly..

‘Call It Off’ has three-part harmony over a spinning, skipping rock beat. Powell even plays a ukulele at one point in the show.

Church meanwhile is singing her heart out with piercing clarity AND in tune, yet she is not shrill, as yer Lennoxes and Bushes can be.   The songs don’t sound like anyone else’s BUT if you drew a line from the churning melodic rock roar of Lacuna Coil or Trillium and the introspective songcraft of say Amy Studt and Tori Amos, you wouldn’t be way off course in ‘getting’ this material.  However Church’s voice is stronger than Studt’s and when we saw Amos she hardly spoke to her adoring fans, it was like a temple of worship.  The atmosphere tonight was closer to fun and genuine excitement at what we might hear. An appreciative crowd too, you will always get the odd Welsh oaf trying to start their dumbass Oggi-Oggi chanting, but that’s life.

A brief reference to the Leverson Enquiry prefaces ‘Mr The News’ which tells Mr M*****h exactly what he is and what he represents. He won’t get to hear it, but he should. It’s cathartic for Charlotte to sing this, you can tell. To her credit she doesn’t treat all writers as trash…

‘Box’ has a smooth beginning and a ‘Kiss Me or Kill Me’ lyric.

It helps that CC has mastered the use of a looper device on the vocals and can duplicate herself many times for crescendos. It creates a haunting beehive of sound, employed to good 3-D effect. The drummer uses beaters rather than sticks, at times. Almost like a pitband show drummer but the song arrangements need this at times.

The ‘Ghost’ song is very much Studt territory in sound and even visually – check the video on www.charlottechurchmusic.com

‘Come To Me’ has a grinding Lacuna-style beat, the chorus catchy  ;’Breach of the Peace’ deploys martial drumming ; closer ‘James’ is tagged ‘disco’ by Church but is astonishingly close in Euro-chug feel to the work of French songstress par excellence Zazie. A dazzling show, a band working hard.

Afterwards, Church asks what I thought of the set. Admittedly I am (still) a tad in awe of meeting her, at last. But I mean it when I tell her I don’t think I’ve heard anyone sing that strongly, before. Not since Grace Slick, for sure. Please let’s have some recordings ?

Pete Sargeant     www.fairhearing.co.uk

-       Thanks Rhi, Jonathan

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