Charlotte Church – Nottingham Bodega Social Club, Friday August 17
(originally written for the Nottingham Post)
In her fifteen years as a performer, 26 year-old Charlotte Church has never before toured the UK. Now that the moment has finally arrived, she has confounded all expectations, booking a series of low-key dates in small, indie-rock-type venues at the quietest time of the year, in order to unveil a brand new musical direction. “I feel like I’m starting again and building from the bottom up”, she has said. Posters for the gig, which have been few and far between, show the singer’s mouth knitted shut with string. It’s all a far cry from the TV chat show days, and the chirpy pop of hits such as “Crazy Chick”.
Fans from the “voice of an angel” days seemed in short supply on Friday night. Instead, the respectably full (if far from capacity) house looked to be made up of curious-minded Bodega regulars, ready to give the girl a fair hearing, and a fair smattering of industry types (the guest list was sizeable).
Frizzy of mane (it’s platinum blonde these days) and devoid of finger jewellery, Charlotte made an unassuming entrance, positioning herself in front of a laptop and an array of knobs and pedals, then crouching to the floor as she began to sing. Wow, this was different. Had she turned herself into some sort of histrionic indie diva? Would there be wails and sobs? Would there be rolling on the floor and foaming at the mouth?
Not a bit of it. As was eventually explained, Charlotte is still a little awkward around technology, and the crouching was basically to ensure that she was pressing the right pedals. In this respect, luck wasn’t always on her side. A later attempt at live-looping her voice into a multi-part choir quickly stalled, prompting a giggle and a rude word. “Have I deleted it, or have I pressed stop?” she asked her band: four standard-issue indie blokes, who played very well, but who were never introduced.
No such glitches marred the vocals, though. It was odd to hear the celebrated Church pipes wrapping themselves round the all-new, self-penned, as yet unreleased material, which leant towards the more dramatic end of the indie-rock spectrum, without leaping too far into the leftfield. (Easy comparisons should be resisted, but it’s a fair bet that Charlotte has a few Florence and the Machine tunes on her iPod.) They aren’t the catchiest of songs, and the stridency of the vocals sometimes sat strangely against the backing band, working slightly at odds with the arrangements.
This felt entirely deliberate, and it was a bold move for a singer who is still in the process of re-inventing her performance style. For in contrast to her brash public persona, Charlotte seemed somewhat hesitant at times, cautiously feeling her way into her new role, and sometimes singing as much to herself as to her audience.
Lyrics were hard to make out, but some songs had unmistakeable messages. Judge From Afar was inspired by nasty online comments, posted under a nasty newspaper article. Beautiful Wreck offered “a cynical view of the mainstream music industry”. Another song was written after Charlotte’s appearance at the Leveson inquiry into press standards; it was sarcastically dedicated to Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail.
As Charlotte explained to me after the show, a series of EPs are planned, starting from next month, with videos to accompany each song. Both offstage and on, there was no mistaking her commitment to the project, the disarming honesty which she brought to bear in her performance, and the sheer bravery of making such a risky public move. If the shows never scale up to larger venues, you sense that she would barely be bothered – because, although still far from perfect, this just doesn’t feel like a vanity project from a pampered star, indulging her latest whim. Indeed, there didn’t seem to be any vanity on display at all – and even for that alone, Charlotte deserves full respect.