Emma Pollock - Birmingham Academy
"Cross the water with me / And I guarantee by morning we will land / Your fingers stretched in the sand / Staring out to sea." The fingers in these opening lyrics to Emma Pollock's current album, 'In Search of Harperfield', warmly but carefully beckon the audience along the atavistic journey of tonight’s music and anecdotes.
Pollock is dressed smartly in a plaid red shirt and blue jeans, in line with her easy going and confident conversational style. Banter between friendly band members bridges a notable spatial gap between stage and audience, Prince Charles infamously described Birmingham’s nearby modernist Central Library as where books went for incineration rather than reading, and while an extrapolation is unfair to the Academy, one pines for Pollock playing a venue with a more fitting cosy personality.
The Scottish musician describes her album "Character explanation and daydreaming that end up transcending into song", her loquacious nature detailing its background makes it readily tangible and relatable. Tonight and the album continue their shared trajectory centering on 'Intermission', which chronicles the latter stages of Pollock's parents’ lives, the pivot point at a particular age where the carer and cared for roles reverse. Careful not to make her situation exceptional, but instead inclusive via self-questioning observations, she recounts running back and forth between her poorly parents separated by hospitals 80 miles apart, "The sun was out, and I remember thinking this is a wholly unreasonable state of affairs given Scotland never really has much sun. And then when it does choose to come out, I’m having one of the worst weeks I can remember." Her lucid speaking voice segues into her honeyed singing voice, its inflections telling stories reminding all that the real stories are between the lines.
‘Don't Make Me Wait’ and ‘Vacant Stare’ reference Pollock's earlier band, The Delgados, lilting vocals and upbeat instrumentals shift off kilter to signpost concerns around the corner, or underneath the floorboards. Later solo work isn't forgotten with songs from the 2010’s 'The Law of Large Numbers': ‘House on the Hill’ prefaces ‘In Search of Harperfield’, and ‘Confessions’ is based on "The most beautifully illustrated book I've ever seen.” We imagine the ghost of Dusty Springfield sitting on a stool in the corner before the smoking ban, or in a railway station’s departure lounge referenced in 'Alabaster', smiling as she appreciates Pollock as one of Britain's truly great voices similar to her own in tone and quality, a professional linage to go with tonight’s familial linage.
Birmingham will not follow Dumfries and Galloway's lead in containing this island’s first Dark Skies park, where light pollution is so low it doesn't affect one’s ability to view the stars. The correlatory named 'Dark Skies' closes tonight, Pollock remembers her childhood insignificance under these bright pricks of lights’ ancestral stillness, stories from the past in their own right. More should be in attendance, but the audience’s faces are themselves bright pricks of light reflecting the stage’s musical and anecdotal warmth, they leave not noticing the city's all consuming less welcoming dark skies as Pollock’s transportive storytelling only gradually loses its thrall.
Cannot Keep a Secret
Don’t Make Me Wait
I Could Be a Saint
House On the Hill
Red Orange Green
Hug the Harbour
Parks and Recreation
Emma Pollock’s current album, the Scottish Album of the Year nominated In Search of Harperfield is available from all good record shops, including from the Chemikal Underground label. You can read our review here.
Photo credit: Jannica Honey