I HAVE READ the name Beth Orton many times. I have never listened to her music. I was offered tickets to her Cathedral show on Saturday night. I said yes. This coincided with a friend’s 60th. I knew she liked female singer-songwriter material. Turns out we were both in the same boat – a name we knew, but had not listened to. Looking around the people queuing outside the cathedral, we were both well within what semmed to be the Beth Orthon demographic: white and post middle-aged.
We experienced Eb & The Sparrow. Wonderful steel guitar sounds echoing through the cathedral. Everything in reverb, and what the hell was she singing about? I have very little idea. Still, for five or so numbers, not offputting.
Beth Orton entered, wearing a poncho. Mmm (was my first disapproving thought). Remember, I am an Orton virgin. She opened with an a cappella number. Mmm. Okay. She proceeded to show us two styles throughout the evening, the first being the flurried strum of early material where she sounded like a wannabe Joni Mitchell. The second being a folk finger-picking style, with one string especially poorly tuned, the same vocal inflections and, er, seemingly very similar melodies and song structure. Lyrics – forget about cohesion because her diction is appalling. Fragments of lyrics come through but not enough to complete a narrative.
She played piano twice. She has a clumsy, clumpy way with the keyboard. Very distracting. The mike at the piano was better for her voice. I was vaguely reminded of Laura Nyro. Very vaguely.
After about six songs people began walking out. I would like to have gone as well. My friend was eyes closed, as if in another world. I found out later we were both on the same page.
Beth Orton continued for what seemed liked forever, singing the same indecipherable song until “Thankyou Auckland”, and we were out of there.
If you are going to tour with just your acoustic guitars, my suggestion to Beth Orton is to get diction lessons and learn how to tune those guitars.
I have heard her music, and from now on will only read her name. JAMES BRADFIELD