We booked tickets to this concert on the strength of two songs that we both know and enjoy – “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” and of course “Suddenly I See”. We had no idea about the rest of her back catalogue or current music, so we didn’t have any particular expectation of how the evening would develop, and you could say our attendance was a leap of faith. I’m pleased to say it turned out to be a very worthwhile leap indeed.
There was a slightly odd feel to the structure of the evening; for instance, at the bar. We arrived and did our usual trick of ordering a couple of Chenin Blancs to take into the show and another couple for the interval – but we were told they were not accepting interval orders that night because they weren’t sure how long it would be and whether they would have time to get drinks ready for it. As it happened, the interval came at 8.40, and there would have been bags of time to prepare the drinks. As a result I had to queue again at the bar for the interval, and, as I was wearing my Invisible Suit, I had to wait a long time to get served, which meant the queue to buy the CD of the support act (read on below…) was immense and so we ended up not joining it. Humph.
Then there was the audience itself. I checked the R&D website earlier in the day and the whole theatre was pretty much a sell-out. But as we took our seats about five minutes before the show was due to start, whole banks of seats were still empty. “Must be because there is a support act, and people will arrive late”, we assumed. Still, how did they know there would be a support act? It didn’t say so on the tickets…. Anyway, the start time of 8pm came and went. Then 8.05pm. At about 8.08pm a “roadie” (how hip am I?) came on, twiddled a few knobs with the machines and instruments, and wandered off. At this stage I remarked to Mrs Chrisparkle that the whole presentation was giving an impression of an amateur, rather cheap affair – it wasn’t giving me much hope for a top class professional show.
Then this scruffy young chap ambled on, picked up a guitar, looked at us in surprise as if he didn’t expect an audience to be there, and quietly said “hi I’m Billy Lockett” and started to play us a song. At this point the man sat in front of Mrs C went into a frenzy of excitement. To every guitar chord that Mr Lockett played, he head-banged rhythmically and repeatedly, feeling his way into his groove. He disco-danced in his seat (not really appropriate to the style of music being played to be honest), and, in the words of Kool and the Gang, basically “got down on it”. Frankly, he looked a bit of a pillock. “He must have his fans in” said Mrs C. And sure enough, shortly afterwards Mr Lockett revealed that he was Northampton born and bred and would be playing a local gig in a few weeks’ time. He’d brought some CDs with him that he would sell and sign in the interval. And, do you know what? He was really, really good. No wonder the queue to buy his CD was so long. I’d describe his style as comfortable folk rock; he has a warm, rich voice and, cliché though it may be, he really made his guitar sing. No criticism intended, but he was the kind of artist Alan Partridge would adore. We were incredibly impressed; and today I’ve downloaded all his songs from iTunes.
But of course, K T Tunstall was the main attraction. I was surprised that she didn’t have a backing band – but she’s just there, herself, alone, decked out in glitzy trousers, with a few guitars, a keyboard and a tambourine. And a clever, hidden computer that layers a backing track for each song in front of your eyes (or ears). First she gets the drumbeat going by knocking out a basic rhythm on the body of the guitar (record, wait for it to carry on without her), then maybe a tambourine shake or two (record, comes back at you with the already established drumbeat), then a double click of the fingers a few times (record, that sounds like extra percussion), finally add maybe a little vocal humming or “woo-hoo”-ing (record, now you’ve got backing singers) and the whole cumulative effect is as haunting as it is technically fascinating.
She did – naturally – perform Black Horse and Cherry Tree (about halfway through the show) and Suddenly I See (as part of the encore). The other songs were all new to us, but I have to say, they blew us away with their beauty, their fun, and their style. You know that rather wonderful (and rare) feeling when you buy a new album and every single new track is a delight – well that’s rather what that evening felt like. She was on stage for the best part of an hour and a half, during which time she had very friendly and entertaining banter with us too. Despite being on the big Derngate stage and with a full audience, the whole thing had the intimate feel of a cabaret. The sound quality was sensational – and the light show atmospheric and beautiful; congratulations to whoever did the lighting design. That backing track computer really came into its own for the encore. Not only did KT get us all to sing the words “suddenly I see” which she locked into the computer so that our singing came back out at us as backing singers, but for the last song, Chimes, she set her own voice and instrumentation on repeat on the computer so that it carried on once she had said goodbye and left the stage, and even as we were leaving the auditorium. It was like a very slow lingering fond farewell to a great evening. And today, I’m downloading all her songs from iTunes too.
So the scores on the doors for the evening are: two acts we have never seen before, plus loads of great songs, multiplied by superbly entertaining performances, equals two new fans for each. An idyllic evening of great music – I highly recommend it. You can see the dates for the rest of the tour here and if you’re local and want to support Billy Lockett on his “hometown headline show” (alas we’re already committed elsewhere that night) the details are here.
PS Despite the ushers telling everyone as they came in that photography was not allowed, the entire auditorium was constantly being littered with little flashes of flash camera, inevitably followed up by an usher tracking down the guilty party and asking them to stop. There were a few visually stunning scenes where KT was doing beautiful big numbers under a smoky funnel of whirling light that were unfortunately marred by these irritating flash interruptions. On our way out Mrs C personally thanked one of the ushers for attempting to stop what she described as one of her pet irritations. Let’s hear it for the ushers!