In the Round, with Beth Orton

Beth Orton

A first visit to the Roundhouse tonight – and I was very impressed. It’s a good size venue: big enough to create a sense of anticipation but small enough so that, wherever you sit, you have a great view of the stage. It’s a really friendly place, too, where the staff go out of their way to be helpful.

We were here to see Beth Orton, as part of 2018’s ‘In the Round’ series. This was another first for me; I’ve never seen her perform live before and was interested to find out what kind of performer she is. You forget how long this folktronica singer’s been around – Beth’s debut album, ‘Trailer Park’, came out in 1996. Gulp.

Mind you, she hasn’t changed one bit. Tall and striking, Beth Orton looks just the same as she always did. She’s what I think of as a “no fuss” performer – just her, her guitarist Grey McMurray and an arrangement of red roses on stage.

Launching straight into ‘Keeps Me Up All Night’ and then into ‘I Was Crying Out to You’, it was a good couple of songs before Beth said anything. Endearingly, she looked a bit nervous to begin with, although those nerves dissipated as the crowd (the best-behaved I’ve ever seen at a gig – honestly. So polite!) began to respond to the music.

Also endearingly, although Beth has a newish album out, she performed as many tracks from her back catalogue as she did from ‘Kidsticks’. Several songs in, you could see her relaxing (“It’s like a big old hug being In the Round, isn’t it?”), eventually picking up one of her guitars and strumming the intro to ‘She Cries Your Name’ – to loud cheers.

After ‘1973’, one of the most memorable tracks on ‘Kidsticks’, Beth paused to chat: “I’m doing this now, in case they leave early, but today’s my father-in-law’s 69th birthday and for the first time in his life he has eaten papaya and listened to Sade!”. Beaming at us all, she proposed: “Let’s have a little burst of Happy Birthday – it’ll make up for the fact that I didn’t get him a card!”

After ‘Shopping Trolley’ came my favourite moment of the night so far: ‘Mystery’, from ‘Sugaring Season’. Just beautiful. From there, into ‘Falling’, another ‘Kidsticks’ track. And then, the very best moment of the show, an emotionally-charged version of ‘Pass in Time’. Grey McMurray sat this one out, so it was just Beth and her guitar – and some mighty fine guitar work she treated us to, I might add. By now, the atmosphere was electric; you could have heard a pin drop.

Then came ‘Candles’, followed by ‘Central Reservation’, with Beth bemoaning the fact that the evening was nearly at an end. “This has gone by very fast – it’s so nice to be here, though”. Of course, there was an encore, ‘Stolen Car’ – and then: “This is for all the lovers in the house, as it’s nearly Valentine’s Day. It’s called ‘Dawnstar’.”

I love that song. Elegant and haunting – rather like Beth, you might say – hearing it performed live sent shivers down my spine, just as any self-respecting encore should. This was not to be the last song of the night, though. That accolade was reserved for a blissful rendition of ‘I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine’, her first-ever single, with Beth telling us, sweetly: “I’m so excited to be here. And I’m thankful that you’ve all come out on a grey, cold February night for me”.

The pleasure, Beth, was all ours.

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