Beth Orton / Clayhill - Manchester Academy 1  22.02.2006

Legend has it that Clayhill was formed while the two mainstays were under the gainful employment of Alton Towers. The dusty realism that comes through in Gavin Clark’s smoky, effortless vocals has often been heard dominating an acoustic base. Tonight, the trio became a quintet with the double bass element and a stirring piano providing some gusto to the new songs and gives the lurid old guard of ‘Grasscutter’ some musical depth, but is subtly delivered so as not to detract from the earthy feeling conveyed in Clark’s vocals. Clayhill are a band who puts thought into everything they do and this includes song titles. ‘After The Slaughter’ uses the trembling depth given by their double bass element to underline a tormented element and embrace the evolving nature of the world, while the audience appreciates their musical expansion.

Beth Orton has always been an enigma wrapped in a riddle, but tonight she loosened the bow by opening with ‘Rectify’ from her forthcoming album. The deployment of the first person narrative helped to lift the mask of doubt surrounding the songstress, as she looked back with the prosaic poetry of Angela Carter, wishing that she could tipex out mistakes that have been made in life. A slowly cutting acoustic guitar riff seems to haunt the new offerings by providing a clear backdrop for Beth’s thoughtful musing, setting a reflective tone. The familiar side of tonight’s heroine came out in the searching ‘Conceived’ that saw the backing band earning their corn which included some deft percussion. Sliding guitar riffs rise from a gently caressing base to walk hand-in-hand with the bemusement portrayed through soul searchingly sung lyrics.

The influence of Jim and to a lesser extent, Jeff Buckley on the nimble Norfolk lass is evident in the cruise through her ten year catalogue of bitter/sweet musical journeying. It is that bite in her lyrics which emphasises this point, with ‘Stolen Car’ taken from the prize plum of her albums so far ‘Central Reservation’, being a case in point;

 “One drink too many and a joke gone too far
   I see a face driving a stolen car, gets harder to hide
   When you're hitching a ride.”

These lyrics were sung with such comforting intimacy, it was as though Beth was speaking to each of us individually. Of the new numbers on display, the bouncy piano riff in the vein of Jools Holland that came through via the sharp pop song ‘Worms’, stands out and is layered with a country tinge to the vocals to make a snappy synopsis on life. The inclusion of almost autobiographical offering ‘Sweetest Decline’ is a reminder of the hidden power of the meek & mild and, of course, the utterly compelling spirit of a songwriter whose presence enlightening.

David Adair

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