As I sit amongst a tangibly excited sell-out crowd waiting for the show to get started, I can’t help but smile to myself. I’m thinking back to my somewhat unique introduction to the work of tonight’s headline act, Lucy Rose.
In what feels like a different lifetime, actually just shy of four years ago, I used to work for a fancy hotel as part of the event staff. As anyone who has done this type of work will appreciate, December 2012 was a manic month, with Christmas parties back to back to back. The sheer volume of these events quickly causes them to all mould into one, an unending blur of tray balancing and forced smiles, all to a soundtrack of generic background party music.
However, there is one night during this particular festive party season that stands out. Amidst the chaos of pre-event prep, when everyone is driven by panic from overbearing management and a shared lack of sleep, someone mentioned that one of the acts playing that night wasn’t the usual lazy dj or sleepy string quartet. They recognised the name from the briefing sheet, convinced that they’d heard it somewhere before.
Sure enough, once the mains had been served, a refreshingly humble red-head took to the stage, accompanied by her band. The set that followed stopped a number of us in our tracks, to the annoyance of our manager. Those familiar with Lucy Rose’s music will undoubtedly understand why.
The setting for tonight’s show is really quite special. The first of a five date tour to mark the release of Lucy’s live acoustic album ‘Live at Urchin Studios’, we find ourselves in the top floor of the Idea Store Library in Whitechapel. The intimacy of the night is accentuated by the small crowd and dim lighting, almost entirely executed by small lamps onstage.
Tonight’s support is Eliza Shaddad, treating us to a collection of impressive tracks driven by her powerful vocals and thoughtful, often gritty electric guitar. Eliza’s talents are unquestionable. Her songs draw you in and her melancholic presence is really quite mesmerising. In between songs, her chat gives the impression of a likeable and charming character and fits well with the setting. Whilst the varying effects on her guitar are used well, I’d say that those on her vocals were unnecessary, especially the auto-harmoniser but that’s an ongoing personal beef of mine, and somewhat took me out of the moment at times. This is a minor quibble though in an otherwise incredibly impressive performance, tonight will no doubt have won her a number of new fans.
In the four years since I first heard her back in that hotel ballroom, I’ve not been lucky enough to see Lucy Rose do a headline show until tonight. Both albums, ‘Work It Out’ and ‘Like I Used To’ have been on heavy rotation on my generic fruit themed device and I watched her almost steal the show supporting City and Colour back in February. I’m really excited for this though.
Lucy begins proceedings with a friendly welcome and explains what prompted her new live record and subsequent tour. 2016 has seen her travel round South America and Asia, touring by herself, and she wanted a recording that represented the versions of her songs that she was performing during this time. ‘Live at Urchin Studios’ was recorded in under an hour, performed in a small room in front of about 30 fans and is a far cry from the full band show that is the mainstay of her UK tours.
Lucy begins with‘Middle of the Bed’, the opening track from the live album and fan favourite from her debut release ‘Like I Used To’. The minute she is up and running, it is easy to tell that this is going to be a special show. Accompanied by regular on-stage partner Alex, Lucy seems instantly at home in this quirky setting.
In between songs, she welcomes requests from the crowd. This includes one call for a new song, ‘Fernando’, which she had recently dropped from her upcoming album at her producer’s request. If this song isn’t good enough for her new release then I’m incredibly excited for it as, whilst perhaps not her most memorable, this track shows real promise for things to come.
Lucy is an incredibly warm and friendly stage presence and regularly quick-witted and funny. Before a rare acoustic performance of ‘Like An Arrow’ she tells the story of how her young nephew, who is in the crowd, is a big Lucy Rose fan, however refuses to believe that his Aunt Lucy is actually her.
There is a real honesty to Lucy’s stories as she opens up about her insecurities. Before playing fan favourite ‘Shiver’, she confesses to distress caused by reading YouTube comments regarding her voice. She also later tells of recent self-doubt and considerations of quitting music.
The new material she plays tonight has me, and I’m sure the majority of fellow audience members, grateful she’s still going. They continue Lucy’s journey as a songwriter, all well-crafted and moving. ‘Moirai’, is undoubtedly the best of the bunch, telling a tale of sitting down with the goddess of fate and voicing disappointment “Moirai you let me down, you let me down”.
Like all good things, unfortunately the evening had to come to an end. All too soon, especially as it finishes with Lucy saying that she was going to play a personal favourite of mine ‘Place’ but instead opting to oblige another crowd request for a new track. The evident joy on her face at receiving passionate cries for her new material more than makes up for my own tiny disappointment.
This was a truly beautiful evening. Not only is Lucy an accomplished performer and soulful songwriter but also a warm host. Her voice is hauntingly gorgeous and has an honesty in its vulnerability that really makes it very special. The calibre of her new material has me incredibly excited for the future and in the meantime ‘Live at Urchin Studios’ is more than good enough to keep us going.
As an extra thought, more gigs should have a well-lit copy of ‘A Practical Guide to Picture Framing’ as part of the on-stage scenery, it really adds to the ambience.
By Sam Wilson