When the day of musical reckoning finally arrives and we pore over the ashes from its funeral pyre, my hunch is that Northampton will not be viewed fondly or favourably. To date, the town has merely provided the world with Bauhaus, although the locals do claim to ‘own’ Thom Yorke even though he was actually born in nearby Wellingborough. Nope, aside from gloomy gothic posturing, it’s safe to say that Northampton ranks below Stevenage in terms of its imprint upon history.
Not that this news seems to concern Charlotte Carpenter. The diminutive songstress is in the process of out-growing her hometown and tonight’s Leicester gig is the culmination of her first mini headline tour. To add to the sense of occasion, her family have turned up, lending an end of term feel to proceedings and putting paid to any four letter rambunctiousness during her hour-long set. Even before she takes the stage I can detect something in the air; whether it’s the intoxicating buzz or merely the fusty remnants following the recent burst water main in The Cookie, I’m not sure.
The first thing I notice is that Carpenter has at least four guitars; quite why anyone other than stadium-filling rock bands requires quite so many isn’t apparent but she knows how to elicit a moody chord from them, no problem. Her two accomplices spend the entire gig sat down; I appreciate it’s a Friday night and we’ve all had a tough week at work but come on guys. Yes, I know one of you is the drummer but even so!
Carpenter’s sound oscillates between the bluesy hard rock of ‘Am I Alone In This?’ to the twang-tastic lament of ‘Last Love’ and whilst each track is presented with confidence and authority there remains a distinct fragility to the lyrical content. On the more tender moments, you wonder if Carpenter isn’t a little too melancholy living in the East Midlands; I half expected her and the 100 or assembled audience to break into a group hug at any moment. The real heart-tugging showstopper is without doubt ‘Burn‘. Just under four minutes of transparent heartbreak which is sung to a mesmerised crowd and had me wanting to get divorced just so I could fully appreciate the inherent sadness contained within her simple delivery. It should be used by a charity as a backdrop to a fundraising advert, it’s that powerful.
Chatty and assured on stage, Carpenter rarely puts a foot wrong although the interminable tuning between songs broke the magic spell occasionally and resulted in too much chatter from the back of the venue. If she wants to hold a crowd enraptured then don’t give them an opportunity to let their concentration wander. That one criticism aside, the hour closes with a run through of her latest single ‘Fire‘ which is part Alannah Myles with more than a dollop of Suzi Quatro; swiftly followed by a personal ode to her family and a heartfelt reflection of Xmas past. Then she’s gone, probably to sell packets of her own brand coffee at the merch stall.
On this form, Charlotte Carpenter need not concern herself with Xmas future, her trajectory is almost certainly going to carry her away from the delta blues of the River Nene. By the time I see her next, I expect at least another three guitars on stage and for Oxfam to have adopted ‘Burn‘ for their latest campaign.
Photo by kind permission of Alan Smith (@luckyal65)