The people standing in the bracing chill of a Scottish Sunday night outside the iconic, much-loved Lemon Tree in Aberdeen were probably expecting certain things. Whether it occurred to them that they would soon bear witness to a show so affecting though, you can’t really be sure.
A weeknight listing did little to deter crowds, as Kathryn Joseph brought the final instalment of her tour supporting the ethereal “From When I Wake The Want Is” to her hometown, and the very venue where she worked the bar and scraped plates nearly 20 years prior. How things have changed in the time since.
Amy Sawers arrived onstage without any of the fanfare that her powerhouse voice should demand. Performing tracks from 2004’s “So Called Love Stories…” and 2012’s “Laburnum”, the unadorned songs let her vocals shine. With the ease of someone who had clearly been impressing audiences for a very long time, she effortlessly weaved her magic over those who had arrived early and were lucky enough to be privy to it.
Su Shaw’s SHHE is the reinvention of her previous moniker Panda Su, and it was the devastating “Maps” from that era which she had been choosing to open her sets with this tour. Stripped back to nothing more than a few recurring notes and Su’s smoky, lamenting voice; it was a perfect introduction to her unquestionable talent. An engaging performer, she recounted recent tales from the road with Kathryn, leaving the audience falling ever more in love with her.
Su is commanding a space of her own in terms of sound: whilst her songs evoke the fragility of Cat Power, her ability to create mood and atmosphere from the barest of places puts her in a league not currently occupied by many. New single “Eyes Shut” was a standout in a performance that left hearts bruised and longing.
Fresh from watching SHHE’s set amidst the crowd, Kathryn Joseph took to the stage during increasing applause from fans, friends, and family. Beginning with “IIII” from her second album, the tone of her set was established early: this would be an evening of brooding, compelling noise interspersed with hilarious tales involving everything from cuttlefish to travel pants and back again.
To see Kathryn play is to step outside of yourself for a while: she has the uncanny ability to transport you somewhere else, away from whatever worries currently linger in your head. Her voice soars above the room, then settles like a warm, comfortable blanket over its inhabitants. For all the deserved acclaim her SAY-award winning debut album garnered, it is the follow up record which truly cements her position as one of Scotland’s best songwriters: built on the premise of love lost and then found again, it aches, pleads, doubts, and kisses you better in a way which only Kathryn could do.
Closing track “The Weary” from “Bones You Have Thrown Me And Blood I’ve Spilled” is introduced with an explanation of the song’s weight, and it serves as a breathtaking tribute to the 205 souls who drowned on a capsized boat returning from World War I in 1919. With such heavy subject matter you would expect a morose affair, yet Joseph manages to find beauty in tragedy – a gift that becomes all the more apparent when we hear of the health struggles concerning members of her immediate family. To endure such trials is one thing, to immortalize them in stunning song is another matter entirely. Yet she manages to do just this, in her own unique way, both acknowledging and accepting fate and circumstance in the process.
As the tour ends to the sound of heartfelt gratitude for everyone involved and the room starts to empty, I am left reeling: struck yet again by the incandescent light this artist radiates. I know this will be one of those shows I tell others about for many years to come, a night when a seemingly unassuming woman stepped onstage and transformed herself into a salve for the broken, a triumph against the past, and a promise of what is still yet to come.
Words and photo by Sarah Moses.