“If you like watching rehearsals, you must be loving this”. George Thomas and his brother Euan’s afternoon practice session had been lost to the lugging back and forth of equipment. However from my brief previous encounters with George Thomas on record, his faltering, faux-naif indie folk wobbles don’t appear to depend of endless practice. Tonight there was a rough-hewn charm to these wonky songs lent a slight antique air, despite the futuristic glasses and one song about space, from the swish, brushed drums of Euan and acoustic guitar or 60s Ace Tone organ from George. There were some stories of the shared histories of George Thomas and Liz Green and Red Deer Club that I didn’t quite follow but no interpretation was needed for this amiably idiosyncratic opening set.
George Thomas had earlier said that hearing this was Liz Green’s album launch party he had put the emphasis on "party" rather than "slick gig". Liz Green’s approach to her own launch party was to push the dial round to "wild variety". Her set started with her alone on the stage necking a glass of rum followed by playing two covers – Son House and Blind Willie McTell. She was then joined by her band, the freshly christened ‘Team Me’, and the evening continued with rambling introductions and reminiscences, hand-drawn note-book storyboarding of one song, more shambling amiability but then beautifully haunting songs of murder and bereavement. As she put it herself “Enough hilarity, here’s another song about death”.
I first saw Liz Green in 2007 in the upstairs room at Cafe Saki. As she led a cross-legged, mainly student audience in a clap-along acapella number I initially pegged her as a coffee-house folk-revivalist. But as her singles confirmed she sides more with pre-war blues here, and on the debut album, given a subtle jazz flavour by her band – trombone, saxophone, brushed drums and double bass. The surreal almost nightmarish imagery of songs – Joe the half-bird man who loses his fourteen sons (also half bird) in the American Civil War before having to kill his wife Oko and himself with a woodcutter’s axe to end their grief in “The Ballad of Joe and Oko”- was explained matter-of-factly as though such stories stalk the imagination of Liz Green daily. The switch from meandering comic explanation to hushed harrowing tales was often sudden and stark.
Highlights for me were a deathly atmospheric ‘Hey Joe’ and a breathtakingly beautiful solo rendition of ‘French Singer’. For ‘Gallows’ the final song of main set performed solo, she walked slowly away from the microphone still singing, her voice becoming more distant until she disappeared into the wings and into silence. A wonderfully dramatic moment. I would dearly love to see a Liz Green show that emphasises the drama and grand guignol without attempting to lighten the mood. May be just too intense? But tonight was a great combination of a cosy night-in with friends-and-rum plus spooky, sparse musical tales of death and loss. Someone had travelled all the way from Germany just to see this show giving another twist to the album title "O Devotion". But Liz Green’s talent and song-writing do indeed deserve such carefully placed devotion.
The Set List:
Grinnin’ In Your Face [Son House] (solo)
Dying Crapshooter’s Blues [Blind Willie McTell] (solo)
Rag and Bone
The Ballad of Joe and Oko
French Singer (solo)
Bei Mir Bis du Shoen