Natalie Duncan – Nottingham Contemporary, Saturday October 19
Originally published in the Nottingham Post.
Ahead of Natalie Duncan’s first hometown show in many months, four-piece band Cecille Grey stilled the busy room, with an atmospheric and reflective performance. Their sound has more in common with American indie-folk singers – Neko Case, Cat Power, Feist – than with homegrown acts, making them a unique proposition on the Nottingham scene. The set concluded with Stories, a track from their self-released EP You Me, whose jazz-tinged vocal cadences brought Joni Mitchell to mind.
Before hitting us with brand new material, Natalie Duncan and her band warmed us up with Sky Is Falling and Lonely Child, two of the most memorable tracks from last year’s debut album, Devil In Me. Looking elegant in black, with striking jewellery and a bold, side-swept haircut, she immediately struck you as someone who has matured as a performer, and who now feels significantly more comfortable in front of an audience.
Although as passionate as ever in her delivery – vocally, she has never sounded stronger – most of the old glumness has gone. These days, she will smile, chat and joke between songs, putting us at our ease instead of drawing us too far into her web of gloom.
This shift in mood was reflected in Natalie’s first two new songs of the evening. I See Colours is possibly her most straightforward and immediate composition to date, and no less powerful for it. “The world was black and white, but now I see colours raining over me”, she sang, and the message couldn’t have been more clear.
This was immediately reinforced by Warmer In My World, whose title should be self-explanatory. If Natalie gets her way – which is still a matter for negotiation, we were told – it should be the title track for the next album.
Three more new songs – Moon On The Bridge, Night Owl, Will We Be Strong – were performed solo at the keyboard, as the band took an offstage breather. Night Owl had only been written two days earlier, and Natalie wryly admitted to a certain recklessness in performing it so soon. She needn’t have worried; the song was spell-binding.
The band returned for a smoky, bluesy Black Thorn, followed by Keep Me Safe – another immediate crowd-pleaser, with a rousing, gospelly climax – and Over Again. For the encore, Natalie returned to another old favourite. “Then you can go and leave me in uncomfortable silence”, she sang, bringing the show to a cathartic conclusion. Ignoring the prophecy, we cheered her to the rafters.