Beth Orton – Manchester Cathedral Review

By Clive K Hammond on 15 Jul 2014
Atmospheres in church are idyllic. Within these towering emporiums – laced with extravagant windows, provocative in design and warped in message – the temper often created cannot be matched. For many the idea of seeing your band in a sacred space might be slightly contradictory – let’s not forget the connotations which saddle most ‘popular’ music contain the devil, sex and drugs so hardly hot topics for a reverend to preach about on a Sunday – however, moving them from their normal beer soaked stage and into the colourful realms of an intimate arena it can be astonishing how much the performer changes. And on Wednesday 2 July, Beth Orton became the latest songstress to take on the hallowed turf that is Manchester Cathedral.

Manchester’s prime sanctuary moulds the ability to appear immense in size, but bijou in terms of warmth. It’s surrounding walls so tall, when any performer plays the true test is to use these barricades to power out any vocal melody, simmering string arrangement or meandering piano motif. Easier said than done.

Yorkshire folk guitarist David Thomas Broughton offered up a soothing half hour set to allow the busy crowd time to adjust to the vastness presented from the venue – albeit suffering from some particularly suspect sound tech work.

As a performer, Orton is perhaps best well known for her folktronica album ‘Trailer Park’ – nominated for 1996’s Mercury Award – her raw lyrics and vehement voice. But 15 years ago, the Norfolk born songwriter released ‘Central Reservation ’ – an album which challenged the stylings of folk, jazz and dance – and in celebration of this anniversary, the evening centred itself on the 12 track release. So taking into consideration the venue, a match made in heaven.

Performing in front of the redly lit altar and backed by her five piece ensemble – including her multi-instrumentalist American partner Sam Amidon – the evening did not feel like a concert, but a true electric spectacle. Tracks such as the quaffing, tranquil ‘Call Me the Breeze’ and the energised ‘Shopping Trolley’ laid down a loose mood, before ‘Couldn’t Cause Me Harm’ continued the meditative glow. With Amidon adding floating violin refrains and the rest of the ensemble supporting Orton with an array of delicate grooves, the songwriter continued to play out the 1999 album in full.

Unlike many artists, Orton did not play ‘Central Reservation’ regimentally track by track. Under normal circumstances the encore was saved for fans favourites, but given her individual approach, she snuck in the empowering ‘She Cries Your Name’, after another glance back with ‘So Much More’.

With the setting for her return to Manchester pristine, the technological failings that interrupted Broughton firstly appeared once again and cast the only moments of frustration. Orton’s voice wasn’t allowed to wail as much as we would have like and the restricted nature to which her vocals were cast out left some vexed.

And in the heat of the moment, Orton seemed it too as she rightly slammed the talkative bar staff and audience, ordering them to simmer down as clinking glass reverberated throughout the room. For what it’s worth, Orton is an incredible performer. Honest, endearing, yet fierce. Thankfully for Manchester, they experienced all of the above.

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