Lipstick and Guitars

Live Review | The Maze, Nottingham | Review by Allan Wilkinson

The Lipstick and Guitars tour, originally advertised as featuring four exceptionally gifted female singer songwriters, those being specifically Nell Bryden, Kat Flint, Lana and Lizzyspit, arrived in Nottingham tonight with one of those main ingredients missing. Lizzyspit was replaced at short notice by Gabby Young, who immediately won the hearts of those present with her infectious personality and a hell of an amazing voice to match. Appearing at The Maze, the small cavernous music venue located to the rear of the Forest Tavern along Mansfield Road near Nottingham city centre, the red headed songstress provided an excellent opening spot accompanied by her regular guitar player Stephen Ellis who she had brought along from her regular eight-piece band Other Animals. Classically trained, but picking up a broad musical taste along the way, that includes rock, pop, folk, jazz, funk and experimental music, the seated Gabby refrained from sharing with the audience the details of her unfortunate knocks over the years, most notably the fact that she beat thyroid cancer at the age of 22, but instead cheerfully delivered a spellbinding opening set, which attracted a respectful silence from the audience throughout, interspersed with enthusiastic applause in all the right places. Kicking off with “Um”, Gabby presented a set of remarkable and memorable self-penned songs, each one with its own authentic sound utilising acoustic guitars and at one point the banjo, but it was Gabby’s voice that caught the attention of the audience from the start. Citing Jeff Buckley as a major influence, it has to be said that Gabby’s use of vocal pyrotechnics bears an astonishing resemblance to that of her late hero, whose real legacy was of an artist who used his voice to maximum effect. During “Ladies of the Lake”, Gabby hit an unfeasibly high note reminiscent of the highest pitch you might squeeze out of a musical saw, which had more than one jaw on the floor tonight. Aberdeen singer songwriter Kat Flint’s debut album has been out for a little while now and I was pleased to hear some of the songs from the album performed live at last. The former Gingergreen singer, who was born in Barbados and raised in Aberdeen, has now found London to be a conducive place to write songs, some of which have materialised on this remarkable Dirty Birds CD, which she says relates to the dirty birds of many forms including ‘pigeons and prostitutes, black crows and bomber jets’. Appearing on the same bill as three flamboyant performers, each with their own autonomous character, whether it be the Amy Winehouse style theatrics of Lana, the ethereal flame headed beauty of Gabby Young or the uncompromising confidence of Nell Bryden, who incidentally referred to me as ‘dear’ when dedicating (quite unexpectedly) “Helen’s Requiem” to me from the stage, Kat Flint came over even more shyly-spoken and studious than ever before. Kat is imbued with an unassuming presence and a calm demeanour on and off stage, which is both comforting and rewarding at the same time. Should a fire have suddenly broken out during the evening, I would probably have gone directly to her for instructions of what to do. During “Go Faster Stripes” Kat utilised a kazoo for the instrumental break, which had been concealed somewhere about her person for easy access. After the instrumental break, the kazoo was discarded with one blow, the insipid little metal object hitting the stage with a resounding clunk. “It took me a while to figure out an elegant way of producing the kazoo” Kat explained, “I’ve yet to work out an elegant way of disposing of it”. With an impressive musical background that includes spells with the Bluefoot Project, Doctor Octopus, Kabin Fever, the drum and bass outfit Virtigo and jazz/hip hop collective Thelonious, to name but a few, Lana was the only singer who appeared tonight with a band. With the addition of double bass and drums, together with her own semi-acoustic guitar, Lana’s uptempo set successfully bridged the gap between Kat Flint’s cool, calm and collected set of acoustic songs and what was to be the climax of the night, Nell Bryden’s headlining set. Playing gigs mainly in London, but also spreading herself around the globe, taking in some of the abundance of Summer festivals, Lana joined the Lipstick and Guitars tour, and in doing so, brought with her some of the originality of her charismatic stage presence together with a bunch of infectious songs including “Don’t Call Me Baby” and “Trippy Kind of Love”. I spoke to Nell Bryden before she took to the stage tonight, about her new album What Does It Take and about her recent tour of army bases in Iraq. We chatted casually and pleasantly for a few moments and later it struck me that nowhere during our conversation did I detect for a single moment, the sheer power that resided somewhere within her, that went towards delivering one of the most outstanding sets I’ve seen on a British stage in quite some time. On “Not Like Loving You”, which is every bit as good as any of the Otis Redding or Aretha Franklin classics you might have on your jukebox, Nell Bryden used her entire body to convey the message, whilst pounding her vintage semi-acoustic guitar to within an inch of its life. The song provides the basis for optimal soulful outpouring, which Nell handles with expert confidence and once again you find that you have to remind yourself that this is a Nell Bryden original and not a Stax classic. Based in New York, Nell is currently touring the UK and Ireland and tonight saw her headlining the Lipstick and Guitar show in Nottingham. During the other sets of the evening, Nell stayed pretty much front of stage all night, offering support to her fellow songwriters as they performed and then mingled freely with the Nottingham audience. After some well-intentioned heckling by a young male member of the audience, Nell simply responded with “I think you’re very cute, but I can’t understand a word”. Nell currently has her feet in several camps and tackles each genre with the justice it deserves, whether pouring her soul out on the aforementioned “Not Like Loving You” and “Helen’s Requiem” or going for the more country-tinged ballads such as “Only Life I Know” or even venturing into the uptempo rockabilly of “That’s Alright Mama” and “Second Time Around”. With the distinctly vintage design of the new album sleeve, Nell Bryden could almost be seen as a throwback to the 1950s, which she encapsulates with remarkable ease both on record and in live performance.