Bertie Blackman - Camden Barfly, London
She may be unknown in this country but Bertie Blackman has already had a lot of success back in her home country of Australia; in 2009, her third album Secrets & Lies won the ARIA (the Aussie BRITs) for the Best Independent Release and she also bagged the AIR Award for Best Breakthrough Artist. So after a promo tour back in November last year, Bertie Blackman returned to the UK to perform six headline dates throughout February, culminating in tonight’s set at the Barfly, but the jury is still out as to whether she can emulate her Australian success over here.
The trickiest thing when you’re playing headline sets in a country where you haven’t released anything on a wide scale before is that the crowd is going to have limited knowledge of an artist’s output and that’s exactly the issue Bertie Blackman seemed to face. Tracks such as ‘Thump’ and ‘Heart’, which were major hits when released in Australia, fail to raise even a glimmer of movement in the majority of the crowd; tiny pockets of dancing break out during the ridiculously enjoyable ‘Heart’ but nowhere near to the level that its jaunty, upbeat chorus deserves.
It’s disappointing as Bertie is on top form throughout the set and her band provide ample support, reeling off hooky electronic beats at will to perfectly match the dark, breathy lead vocals. Understandably, crowd interaction is limited with the focus very much on the songs but when she does interact, it goes a long way to warming the crowd to her. Showcasing a different side to the dominant, focussed on-stage presence during her songs, she appears genuinely touched by what crowd appreciation she does get and ends up dedicating a lot of her tracks to specific fans personally and shows a quite timid side of herself that you can't help but fall for.
Despite being described as a ‘Australian Florence’, Bertie is very much in her own league as you couldn’t see Florence coming up with a song as sexually charged as ‘Black Cats’ which, with a more involved audience, could have led to some very precarious situations as the only movement it provokes is of the grinding variety. ‘Black Cats’ marks a change in the set with both it and ‘Byrds Of Prey’ garnering stronger reactions than any of the tracks that had come before and, while it’s unfortunate that ‘Byrds Of Prey’ marked the end of her short time with us, it at least meant that the set ended up on a synth-filled high that Bertie’s performance deserved.
Hopefully with the release of Secrets & Lies in the UK in May, it won’t be long before Bertie Blackman receives similar recognition over here as she does in her own country. Then tonight’s gig would be able to be talked about, even by the statues in the crowd, with the phrase “I was there at the start”.