With its daily classical, jazz, and avant-garde music and dance performances, the strict formalities of the Queen Elizabeth Hall seem a tad inappropriate for the jokey playfulness of leading folk lady and lyrical goldmine Laura Veirs. Yet, as a last rodeo before settling down to pen her next masterpiece, the Oregon guitar gal stopped by the venue and our small spit of land to play a show par awesome, before touring her own country. The day before she soothed the sugar filled souls of an audience of all ages, a succession of shows which is set to be the template for this mini tour. “It’s been fun to have the combination going, though tiring some days doing two shows per day” said Laura on having the matinee performances for the younglings mixed into her tour.
As her opening act none could be more appropriate than London acoustic player Allesi’s Ark. Her wonderfully charming humour does well to hide her extroverted timidness, and whilst her body drawn vocal style is a little distracting she is an all around winner of a songwriter. Take a listen to her set closer ‘The Robot’ if you’d like to get the full experience of her lyrical, vocal and eclectic style.
Accompanied on stage by guitarist Tim Young and Violin/Viola player Alex Guy, Laura reached into her catalogue of classics by starting off with tracks ‘When You Give Your Heart’, ‘Sun is King’ and ‘Wide Eye Legless’ from her most recent album not for the minors, July Flame, before digging deeper with older gem ‘Spelunking’ from Years Of Meteors, and building a path in the set list with new song ‘Ten Bridges’. Even though the chances of anyone in the audience being younger than eighteen were slim, that didn’t stop her from unleashing a clapped participatory version of ‘Lapdog Lullaby’ and her own childhood favourite: ‘The Fox’. What I learned about the latter is it shared a different home to most of the other tracks on her recent release Tumblebee: Laura Veirs Sings Songs For Children.
“A few of the songs (like ‘The Fox’ and ‘King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki Me O’) can be dated back to England 500 years ago, so those are certainly not American per se, but it’s interesting that they made the trip across the waters and stayed ‘alive’. Some of them are definitely American songs, like Prairie Lullaby which has a lonesome, cowboy sound, and ‘Jump Down Spin Around’ which was an African American work song.”
Speaking of the last of those cultural classics mentioned, it’s probably best that she did not attempt a crowd invited rendition with the more matured audience of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, judging by how she describes the recording process:
“I enjoyed getting a bunch of pals together and recording Jump Down Spin Around live. It’s a tricky song with the way the beat turns around and with all the different stomps and whoops, but my friends really did their homework and came into the studio and kicked it out without a lot of fussing around.”
A surprise number adding sorely needed variety in the performance, and incorporating the established rapport with the crowd and including a superb guitar solo from Young, was the bluegrass anthem ‘Jailhouse Fire’. On the subject of her backing players, whose musical careers date back to their early years, it’s interesting to note Veirs only took to the acoustic guitar at the age of 21. One would expect a rich musical background to surpass this, on which Laura said: “Well, I think folk music is the music of the people, so it’s there for all of us to play as we wish, regardless of our background.”
There are likely always going to be fan favourite songs missed in every Laura Veirs show, and whilst this one may have had a few more than usual, it was a well played and wonderful opportunity for performers and audience alike to revel in the richness of contemporary folk.
Words and Pictures > Graham Ashton