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Live: Emily Barker – Memoirs of Lost Time at Ambika P3, London (13 May 2012)

May 13, 2012

The Other Art Fair logoThe belated but welcome return of the spring sunshine formed the backdrop to one of the most enjoyable weekends I’ve had for a while: a nice, lazy day’s socialising in Bristol on Saturday with Holly and Josephine (two of my co-bloggers at The F-Word) was followed on Sunday by a chance to catch up with singer, songwriter and all-round Renaissance woman Emily Barker at The Other Art Fair at Ambika P3 in London.

The Other Art Fair was a three-day event promoted as offering “an open platform to connect art buyers of all tastes and experience directly with the most talented emerging artists” and wandering around the cavernous underground hangar – a former civil engineering test site at the University of Westminster – the exhibition certainly lived up to its promise with an abundance of artistic creativity on display.

That such an event should find Emily playing is perhaps not such a surprise: she’s long been an avid supporter of the visual arts (her collaborations with video artist Patti Gaal-Holmes come immediately to mind). At The Other Art Fair, Emily was there to highlight Memoirs of Lost Time, a collaboration between Vikram Kushwah and Trisha Sakhlecha. In their own words, the project is:

A series of fine art prints and a book of short stories and pictures inspired by the romantic notions of childhood memories and the almost dreamlike nature they possess […]

Our ever-increasing voyeuristic tendencies means we know a whole lot about the people behind the blogs we read, the films we watch, or the music we listen to. A biographical documentation of sorts, of seven creative personalities? childhood recollections, this project will inspire those inquisitive inclinations, yet show some of these creatives in an unseen portrait of their fantasies and imagination; a very romantic vision of those formative years which captures not only what was, but also suggests a very imaginative take on what could have been.

Sleeping Horses

Emily is one of the subjects of Memoirs of Lost Time and her solo set was prefaced by the reading, by Trisha Sakhlecha, of a short essay on one of Emily’s contributions. From there, Emily lead us back to the performance area where she picked up her electric guitar to open the proceedings with a new song, Sleeping Horses, which is also a soundtrack of sorts to Vikram and Trisha’s work.

This, amazingly, is the first time I’ve heard Emily play solo and, although it has to be said that Ambika’s acoustics aren’t exactly the best in town, it was still obvious that her musicianship has benefited from the last two months on the road – both with The Red Clay Halo (Anna, Gill and Jo) as well as opening for Frank Turner – and latterly a short but intensive solo tour in her home country of Australia. This was particularly noticeable in the next song, Little Deaths, where her fingerstyle playing on the acoustic guitar really shone.

And it’s not only Emily’s playing that is noticeably more ‘on it’ – her voice has developed a full-throated power and control which elevates a slow-burner like Nostalgia to something quite special, from the familiar hushed opening to a thunderous close entirely in keeping with the sense of foreboding that characterised the BBC tv crime thriller series Wallander, where the song found a measure of fame as the series’ theme tune.

Emily Barker

Next up was another new song, Tuesday, another brooding tour de force that managed to maintain the mood of Nostalgia and still set the scene for Pause, the other BBC tv crime thriller soundtrack song (from The Shadow Line). This is the one EB song that has never failed to give me goosebumps; from the recorded version on Almanac, underpinned by Gill’s emotive playing of the Royal Festival Hall’s pipe organ, to the live arrangement featuring The Red Clay Halo’s soaring harmony vocals (check out The Saturday Sessions album), to the bare-bones version that Emily conjured up here out of thin air, this is one of the most frequently played songs on my EB&TRCH playlist.

Emily lifted the mood with the next song, Calendar. A version of this played by EB&TRCH live on Radio 4’s Loose Ends programme back in the depths of winter 2011 was my introduction to Emily’s music and it still bursts from the speakers in a rainbow cloud of sparkliness, even when stripped down to just one voice and a guitar. The well-judged introduction of an audience participation section with much la-la-la-ing and handclapping lifted the mood for the last number, the third new song of the set, called Letters.

I was able to grab a few minutes’ chat with Emily afterwards; as always she’s great company and although obviously road-weary, was looking forward to a couple of days off before getting stuck into recording the new album with Anna, Gill and Jo next month – but not as much as I’m looking forward to hearing it! I, for one, hope that it will be the album which seals the reputation of Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo as among the very best there is in the modern folk genre, and finally brings them the wider recognition they so richly deserve.

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Setlist:

Sleeping Horses
Little Deaths
Nostalgia
Tuesday
Pause
Calendar
Letters

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Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo’s music may be purchased/downloaded online from Bandcamp and iTunes.

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