Claire Sawers

Freelance Writer

Month: February 2017

Review: Pet Shop Boys

The Herald
22 February 2017

Pet Shop Boys

Pet Shop Boys

Pet Shop Boys
Tue 21 Feb
Clyde Auditorium, Glasgow
4 stars

“I can tell you’re a frisky crowd”, says Neil Tennant, with the trademark self-restraint that has always cleverly offset the high energy of their pop. The Pet Shop Boys’ music might be punching and jacking through 90s piano house, throbbing 80s electro and Italo disco beats, but Tennant and Chris Lowe keep their robotic, deadpan cool, as per usual, and let the audience slowly work themselves into a lather on a wet Tuesday night.

Materialising on stage in space-age, silvery headgear, they start with the adrenal ‘Inner Sanctum’ off their current album, Super, before sliding into a more recognisable hit from their first album, Please, and by the chorus of ‘Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)’, bums are already up off seats and dancing.

This is the fourth decade of action for the friends who first bonded over a love of dance music in London in 1981, and their formula of muscular machine beats, hooky melodies and plaintive vocals still works its magic. Besides a few lulls of Balearic chillout and trancey numbers, when the energy levels dip a bit, they keep the room on a high with favourites like ‘West End Girls’, ‘It’s A Sin’ and ‘Domino Dancing’. Their knack of sneaking in messages about totalitarianism (‘The Dictator Decides’), the AIDS epidemic (‘Being Boring’, which sadly doesn’t get a revisit tonight) or fat cat bankers (‘Love is a Bourgeois Construct’) always elevated their fast-gratification synth-pop above the dancefloor into something more memorable. Delivering it all through steely, 1000 yard stares, dressed in metallic bomber jackets and lit up by lasers and oil-slick, pastel lights, they finish with a teasy flash of the glorious ‘Heart’ mixed into ‘Go West’. An encore of ‘Always on My Mind’ under a ceiling of multicoloured balloons is an excellent closer to what feels like a civilised, weeknight rave full of arch, pop fun.

Read the review in The Herald here.


Review: Shirley Collins

The Times
7 February 2017

Folk singer Shirley Collins

Shirley Collins

Shirley Collins
Sat 4 Feb
City Halls, Glasgow
5 stars

Not many would have predicted having such a beatific Saturday night, being snake-charmed into blissed out raptures, with help from a lone Morris dancer and a parade of horse skulls. Maybe least of all, the folk singer Shirley Collins, who spent almost four decades laying low, not performing after a painful marriage breakdown led to dysphonia, curiously the same condition that stopped Linda Thompson from singing after her husband Richard left.

But thanks to prolonged cajoling from a new wave of fans, including Current 93’s founder and one-time member of Psychic TV David Tibet, and comedian and music obsessive Stewart Lee, Collins was lured back from obscurity, and released Lodestar in November, her first album in 38 years.

The dictionary definition of a lodestar is “a star that leads or guides” or “an inspiration, model or guide”, which neatly sums up both what music has always meant to Collins — even during the years when she quietly ran an Oxfam shop in Brighton, presuming she’d been forgotten — and what Collins means to folk music.

Now 81 years old, against a video backdrop of pagan rituals, stellar constellations and Deep South swamps, she sagely revisits madrigals she sang at home with her mum and older sister, Dolly; ‘The Silver Swan’ is a featherlight yet devastating closer to both the album and tonight’s show, and she’s been singing it since a teenager; and Cajun gems from a 1950s folk song collecting trip to America with her friend Alan Lomax. Sipping from a mug of tea in between ballads of pregnant girls being pushed overboard, or gin remedies for injured legs, Collins beams a sort of serene radiance from the stage, where she’s accompanied by musicians on sublime hurdy gurdy, mandolin, fiddle and drums. Her stories are every bit as good as her songs, and the crowd would have definitely stuck around to hear more moonshine-soaked tales of a mean man who “put out his wife’s eyes” or the time she swapped “ugly songs” with a banjo plucking woman from Arkansas, if she didn’t gently evict her fans with the soft order, “It’s time for you to go home now.” When the applause won’t stop, the twinkle in her eyes only glows brighter. “I’m not kidding,” she deadpans, in a Sussex whisper. Maybe it’s because it was the first night of a long-awaited comeback tour, or maybe there were deeper forces of magick at work tonight, but watching Shirley Collins’ dimmed star take on an even stronger brightness is a glorious thing.

Read the review in The Times here (subscription needed).



Review: Martha Wainwright

The Times 
6 February 2017

Photo: Anita Russo/ Rex Features

O2 ABC, Glasgow
3 February 2017
4 stars

After performing at Celtic Connections as The Wainwright Sisters last year, at first it feels like there’s a big, sister-shaped hole on the stage tonight when Martha shyly moseys over to the mic.  She’s not joined by Lucy Wainwright Roche, the other half of her folk song and country double act, their voices dorkily dovetailing around one another’s in ink black harmonies. But then, she’s also not joined onstage by her mother, enigmatic, melancholy folk singer, Kate McGarrigle, or father, roguishly charming folk singer, Loudon Wainwright III, or brother, baroque pop, turned opera composer, Rufus Wainwright. Still, the entire family gets summoned at one point or another, as if magicked up by some time travelling, sonic satellite link to perform as invisible backing band with her; Rufus wrote ‘Francis’ on her album Goodnight City, released late last year, and his theatrical phrasings and louche, late-night cabaret drama come through on her spotlit, torch song delivery. Her son, Francis, gets a second mention in ‘Franci’, written by herself, although she drily deadpans that she had to ask other people to write the other half of the album as she “was busy procreating.”

Her performance is an amalgam of things that her genes and upbringing have gifted her with; French language choruses, wistful sarcastic asides, flashes of sassy magnetism, moments of sadder reflection – but despite the family influences, her unhinged skill is still all her own. Dressed in a baggy boiler suit, decorated with a tasselled necklace of a uterus and fallopian tubes, she likes to lift her knee high for emphasis on certain songs, and rolls her torso and hips slowly around a cosmic, synth-pop number written by her mum and aunt, Anna McGarrigle. Her own songwriting lets her voice rollercoaster through crazed, clear and keening styles; scratchy and squeaky one minute, bluesy and syrupy the next. ‘Traveller’ is her take on Nina Simone’s excellent ‘Baltimore’, a raspy, rock lament, written for a friend of Wainwright’s who died young, and the bassy funk of ‘Take the Reins’, written especially for Wainwright by Tune-Yards’ Merrill Garbus, gives a burst of mid-set energy (it’s the last night of Wainwright’s tour, and she’s burning a bit dimmer than usual). Although it feels like something’s missing for some of tonight’s show – maybe it’s the dopamine hits she seems to take from performing with her actual family onstage – her acoustic cover of her mother’s last song, ‘Proserpina’, about the Greek goddess Persephone, is the highlight, an otherworldly group harmony summoned up from the underworld and the afterlife.

Read the review at The Times here (subscription needed).


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