With some deservedly impressive reviews rolling in for her latest album, In The Seams, there’s a better turn out for tonight’s gig at the Hairy Hounds than there was back in 2012 when Saint Saviour last played here. At that time she was seriously considering packing touring in altogether as, in common with a sadly growing number of artists, she was pretty much doing everything herself which is undoubtedly (a) pretty ruddy time consuming and (b) soul destroying if the turnout’s a little, ahem, slim.
First up though someone else who seems to have been through the musical wringer a bit over the years, Bill Ryder-Jones, former guitarist of The Coral who stopped touring with them for a while citing a “stress related illness” (nasty) before quitting the band for good. I’ve always been stuffed full of admiration for anyone who can get up on stage and do their thing but getting back on the road after going through that must surely take balls the size of Saturn.
Musically both Bill and Becky (aka Saint Saviour) are coming from a similar place right now, intimate, low key and deeply personal. Ryder-Jones (who also produced Becky’s latest album), wrapped up in a hoody and scarf and audibly carrying the remains of a cold with him, this evening played a selection of self penned tracks ranging from Hanging Boy, which has just the merest echo of his twang-tastic days with The Coral through to the more Sweet Babboo-ish There’s a Wall Between Us and on to The Lemon Trees which, despite the cold, nudged him more towards crooner territory (it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to see him morphing into an edgier, more urban Richard Hawley).
As he warms up, metaphorically and literally, the scarf and hoody come off and newer songs lift the pace with Catherine (Bill’s love letter to the streets of Liverpool) in particular showcasing his, up until that point, understated guitar skills a little more.
Time for Saint Saviour then. As already mentioned (hey, if a thing’s worth saying once it’s worth saying a dozen times) In The Seams is clearly a tremendously personal album, much of which seems to be looking back wistfully at her childhood/early adult years and whilst she’s perfectly capable of belting out a tune, as she’s more than proved in the past, much of tonight’s set is delivered in more of a whisper than a scream which, moth to a flame-like, irresistibly draws you in. Opening number this evening, I Remember, is a particularly fragile creature and quite frankly it couldn’t have been more intimate if she’d crept into bed with you and sang gently into your ear in the wee small hours. Pausing between tracks to paint a little picture about each one (not literally, although how cool would that be...we could get Rolf Harris in...what’s that? Oh...good point...) she waxes lyrical on the rugged beauty of Craster in her native Northumberland and reminisces about her schoolgirl crushes and desire to “rescue” the mournful looking indie boys that stared out at her every week from the pages of NME and Melody Maker. I was always more of a Marc Almond kind of boy. With a couple of female backing vocalists and some pre-recorded strings (I imagine that the budget doesn’t stretch to lugging an orchestra around with you sadly), along with Ryder-Jones on guitar (he also adds an almost skeletal vocal to some tracks) it’s an often haunting and mournful sound and you’re driven by an almost overwhelming desire to just climb up on stage and give her a big old hug, especially after Nobody Died (imagine Kate Bush meeting Karen Carpenter on a windswept Northumbrian beach in winter), Becky’s attempt at giving herself a “kick up the arse” when she’s feeling particularly low which, given the tone of many of these songs, is a hell of a lot of the time.
There’s optimism buried in there though, perhaps most notably on Let It Go, tonight’s soar away highlight (despite the best efforts of a trio of individuals at the front who chatted through it...either respect the artists performing or stay at home watching X Factor, okay?).
With echoes of Anthony and the Johnsons’ majestic Hope There’s Someone and Shakespeare’s Sister’s Stay With Me it’s arguably one of the best things she’s ever done and, in a fairer world, she’d be singing it to thousands of gently swaying pilgrims in the Albert Hall. Ending with an old song, Reasons, she finally unleashes the full extraordinary power of that voice and then she’s gone, ghost-like into the night (oh, alright then...she came back and signed albums and chatted to fans and stuff but that doesn’t sound so dramatic does it eh?).
Saint Saviour, a truly special talent. Go see her. You’ll feel blessed.
PS: Driving home after the gig there was a Nick Drake CD playing in the car, another artist who sadly received far too little acclaim at the time but who has now almost been raised to the level of a saint. It may be a clumsy parallel to draw but it’s easy to see Saint Saviour being similarly revered in 40 years time too. Let’s hope it’s not that long eh?