Thursday, July 14, 2011


Mark Lanegan survived hard drugs. Isobel Campbell survived Belle and Sebastian. Together since 2006, this odd couple pairing have now made three albums of superior Lee-and-Nancy torch ballads. Tonight their short Latitude Festival warm-up tour made a stop at the unlikely setting of Lancaster Library. The Get It Loud In Libraries initiative is about getting young people into their local libraries I presume. I don’t know how successful it is (and there weren’t too many youngsters in for this particular show) but it promotes an impressive range of bands and also provides a fantastic opportunity to see artists in intimate settings (although I would have expected tonight to take part at the junction of the Westerns and Romance sections rather than in front of the Sci Fi and Fantasy shelves).

The disparity of the pairing of their voices and their grunge-versus-twee backgrounds is also emphasised by their appearance and stage manner. She is prim and reserved in pastel blue print dress and cardigan, singing mainly with eyes closed. He is tall and grizzled in sombre black and browns and, although hardly effusive, his face is contorted with all manner of facial tics and stretches as he peers suspiciously through narrowed eyes.

Backed by an excellent but unshowy four piece band, Campbell and Lanegan keep it low-key: they never speak between songs and hardly acknowledge the audience - which makes for some frosty silences between the songs early in the set which don’t flow seamlessly into the next (to be fair the overly respectful audience contribute to these silent pauses too).

I get the impression Campbell (the mastermind of the operation) is intensely shy and doesn’t enjoy performing live (they appeared more relaxed and chatty off stage) and Lanegan takes his cue from her. Campbell, studio perfectionist by all accounts, also appeared to be castigating herself at times – she positively grimaced at her own cello part in ‘Eyes of Green’. But the songs are what count and especially bathed in the summer evening light within this fine and cosy municipal Victorian building. Her kitten-purr (a little too subdued tonight) and his gravelly growl make an intoxicating combination; and the songs that stood out are the ones when they combine rather than alternate with each other – ‘Time of the Season’ and ‘Salvation’ particularly this evening.

If anything this gig got progressively quieter as it went on so by the penultimate song of the main set ‘Salvation’ it was simply their two voices and acoustic guitar. This was followed by a sexy and smouldering ‘Come On Over (Turn Me One)’ before they left the stage - to loiter around the library’s public computer terminals – before returning for a two song encore. Definitely not ‘Sci Fi and Fantasy’, and maybe not a blockbuster either, but a bookish evening of cool allure.

The Set List:
(‘Sunrise’ was not performed)

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