Beth Orton at the Academy, Manchester

There is a renaissance going on in folk music. Bert Jansch, Vashti Bunyan, Davy Graham and Donovan have all enjoyed re-releases, successful new albums, or TV coverage in recent months. The success of new artists such as harpist Joanna Newsom suggests an appetite for the gently poetic, and the smoky, entrancingly delicate arrangements of folk.

On the vanguard of this new wave of popular contemporary folk is Beth Orton, who this month has embarked on a three-month tour of the UK and North America.

Orton is an extremely talented artist with important things to say. Her music is deeply personal, but is rendered accessible by virtue of her poetic gifts, and - in live performance - by her considerable charm.

Her performance in Manchester’s Academy proved to be something of a showcase for her new album, ‘Comfort Of Strangers’. The new material does not offer any great leaps forward in tone or texture, though she continues to write songs of great emotional depth.

There are some extremely strong numbers amongst the new material. Notable amongst these in the Manchester set were the jaunty and danceable “Worms” and the anthemic “Heart Of Soul”, both of which will hopefully take their rightful place at the heart of future sets – the latter more than likely becoming a festival crowd-pleaser.

Technically, Beth Orton and her band are accomplished and versatile musicians. Orton is a guitarist of some considerable talent, and could probably tour without her band and still pull in large audiences. However the most transcendent moments during the performance would not have been achieved without the subtle but imaginative drum work of Rob Ellis, and the sensitive piano counterpoints of Sean Read during more sensitive moments. Orton’s voice was also at its most serene when she set her guitar aside, its occasional fragility brought under firm control.

If any criticism can be levelled at this performance, the set list could have been planned more carefully. Her decision to play the entire new album may have been a less effective advertisement than playing highlights from it along with older favourites. The energy in the venue seemed to suffer towards the end, and the second encore was an encore too far for all but the most devoted fans.

Orton’s performance was not lacking in hits, however. “She Cries Your Name” sat at the heart of the set. She also concluded by taking requests from her enamoured audience. At our behest she treated us to solo performances of “Sweetest Decline”, and an amusingly abortive “Sugar Boy”.

Last updated: 19/04/2018 06:14:42

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