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Live: Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo at Union Chapel, Islington (21 November 2012)

November 21, 2012

Emily Barker and The Red Clay Halo - AlmanacIt’s something of an understatement to say that 2012 has been a busy year for Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo. Much of it has been spent criss-crossing the UK and Europe, playing in a range of settings, from the smallest of house gigs to pubs, historic churches, outdoor festivals – and some major venues. Emily, Anna, Gill and Jo have played in their own right as Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo, as well as on various solo and other collaborative projects, and have lent musical and vocal support to other artists – perhaps most notably Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls and Cory Branan on the recent Revival Tour. Other highlights have included winning the Best TV Soundtrack for Pause (the theme to the BBC’s crime drama TV series The Shadow Line) at the Ivor Novello Awards and appearing at the Olympics opening ceremony.

With this impressive catalogue of achievements behind them, you could be forgiven for thinking that a gig at London’s Union Chapel might be something of an anticlimax. However, as Emily pointed out on her blog it was, in fact, the band’s biggest headliner to date. Promising a mix of old and some new songs from the forthcoming album, the sold-out performance was a fitting and triumphant climax to a frenetic year, and the capacity crowd was treated to an assured yet relaxed set by the band, augmented for the occasion by Nat Butler (drums), Ali Friend (double bass, percussion, vocals) and the redoubtable Ted Barnes (guitars, mandolin, percussion, vocals).

Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo at Union Chapel, Islington (21 November 2012)

Opening with Nostalgia from 2008’s Despite The Snow album – and the band’s other TV drama soundtrack (from the BBC’s Wallander series) – Gill, Ann, Jo and Emily took the stage one by one to bring the song to an atmospheric conclusion. Moving into a trilogy of songs from current album Almanac, the multi-instrumental skills of the musicians were foregrounded: Gill moving from piano to flute to accordion; Jo from cello to banjo and Ted swapping between guitar and percussion.

Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo at Union Chapel, Islington (21 November 2012)

Letters and Tuesday were next, two songs from the new album which have already found their places in this year’s setlists, and which took on new dimensions with the addition of the live rhythm section. A change of mood was introduced as the gorgeous four-part harmonies of Pause filled the spacious architecture of the Victorian Gothic church – it’s one of my favourite songs and never fails to send shivers down my spine. It was followed by the equally plaintive This Is How It’s Meant To Be which, although dating from 2007’s Photos.Fires.Fables. album, sat surprisingly well within the new album’s context of ‘home’.

Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo at Union Chapel, Islington (21 November 2012)

Disappear, the second song from Despite The Snow, raised the tempo ahead of Emily’s solo rendition of the intimate love song Home before another shift of musical gears ushered in two more songs from the new album, Dear River and Ghost Narrative. These were notable, not only for being (I think) the first public performances of both songs, but also for featuring Jo playing electric bass. Add in a substantial percussive backbeat from Nat and Ali, not to mention an admirably restrained electric guitar solo by Ted, and a distinctly rockier sound emerged. This is by no means a new thing – a cover of Neil Young’s Look Out For My Love has regularly featured in their live sets this year – and, combined with EB&TRCH’s penchant for reinventing their music, it’ll be interesting to see if this is a side of the band that we’ll see more of in the future. Certainly the enthusiastic response of the audience suggested it’s a musical direction that may be worth further exploration.

Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo at Union Chapel, Islington (21 November 2012)

With both band and audience suitably fired up, there couldn’t have been a better time to introduce Frank Turner to reprise the vocal duet between him and Emily in a rousing version of Fields Of June, recently re-recorded and released as part of a limited edition single a couple of months ago.

Calendar – in my mind, still ‘the single that never was’ – brought the main set to a pleasing conclusion, with the audience participating in a suitably good-natured singalong section at the end. First encore Every Season, on its live debut, offered another taster for the new album and the night was rounded out by a second encore of Look Out For My Love with Anna letting rip some seriously rock’n’roll violin, with the live fade of the a capella vocals at the end bringing this rare and special evening to a close in fine style. Really, we couldn’t have asked for a better show to see out what has been, without a doubt, a brilliant year for one of the finest modern folk bands the UK has to offer. Here’s to an even brighter year in 2013!

Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo at Union Chapel, Islington (21 November 2012)

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Setlist:

Nostalgia
Ropes
Billowing Sea
Reckless
Letters
Tuesday
Pause
This Is How It’s Meant To Be
Disappear
Home
Dear River
Ghost Narrative
Fields Of June
Calendar
Encore: Every Season
Encore: Look Out For My Love

[Above: Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo featuring Frank Turner – ‘Fields Of June’. The video was directed by Kieran Short. Purchase/download the single from Xtra Mile Recordings or download from iTunes]

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

Forthcoming live shows by Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo are listed on their blog – click here for details.

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