Music review: Kathryn Joseph, Glasgow City Halls

Kathryn Joseph PIC: John Devlin
Kathryn Joseph PIC: John Devlin
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To her evident delight and surprise, Kathryn Joseph has become a left-of-centre fixture since winning the Scottish Album of the Year Award in 2015 with her debut album, Bones You Have Thrown Me and Blood I’ve Spilled. But there was something different about her biggest hometown show to date – instead of eyeballing the audience side-on from her battered upright piano, she played a grand piano more fitting to the elegant opulence of the City Halls.

Kathryn Joseph, Glasgow City Halls ****

 Despite the evident respect in the room for this idiosyncratic musician, this was no regular piano recital. Joseph’s mischievous personality was at odds with her songs “about near death and actual death” - as amiable and irreverent as her music was ethereal and intense, and she had a comical explanation for why she was facing stage left instead of stage right as per her usual positioning. Let’s just say it involved perceived anatomical irregularities.

Joseph first perfected her Paddington hard stare as a means of getting her early audiences to pay attention to her performance. There were no such worries here, as her ardent fans lapped up the simple but insistent undulating chords over which she sang spectral, fluttering melodies in her instantly recognisable quavery soprano.

There was not a great deal of variety between songs but sufficient light and shade within each track. Some were beefed up by triggering her own bass drumbeat (Joseph has previously been accompanied by drummer/producer Marcus Mackay).

Almost without fail, she favoured an abrupt ending, usually signalled with a sigh, as if she had been holding her breath.

Joseph sounded particularly quavering and mercurial on the pagan spell of Tell My Lover, while the visceral lyrics of We Have Been Loved By Our Mothers were leavened by a relatively conventional ballad arrangement.

Other highlights included There Is No God But You, her tribute to human resilience, inspired by her niece and a medley of her own song and Frightened Rabbit’s Poke hanging on the notes of the former and delivering the latter with a disarming fragility.

Support came from two fellow solo singer/songwriters, Heir of the Cursed, and Rick Redbeard, aka Rick Anthony of the Phantom Band, whose smooth baritone was effortlessly suited to a folky delivery.

In contrast to the impish creativity and eclecticism of his group, his solo songs are soothing and sage, and he blew a very soulful scat trumpet. Fiona Shepherd