It is 10 years since Emmy the Great released her debut album, ‘First Love’ and to highlight the anniversary and what it did for her she is self-releasing it again on vinyl on June 14th, preceded by this solo short tour around the UK.
I have the Mail on Sunday to thank for alerting me to Emma-Lee Moss in the first place (it has its uses), it’s then reviewer amusing me with a comment on whether or not she was the daughter of Mr and Mrs the Great. It didn’t take long to figure out she was a prodigious anti-folk artist, a style she stuck with through second album ‘Virtue’ (also written around a break-up) before drifting off into Lana Del Rey territory with ‘Second Love’, three years ago.
For all her success in that decade, since breaking through alongside the likes of Florence and the Machine and Little Boots at a time when young women were starting to make their presence felt in the industry, and not only as a singer/songwriter but as a journalist, music reviewer (gulp), broadcaster and Hollywood film songwriter for a film score (‘Austenland’, if you’re interested), there is still a lot of love for the intensely and brilliantly wordy, casually name-dropping ‘First Love’ among her followers, as tonight’s sold-out audience demonstrated.
Moreover, the original album was recorded in rural Lancashire at the Earlies studio while she used Manchester as a live show base, so she was “back in the nest” as she put it. Stories from that time she related at length during the ‘break’ between sides 1 and 2 in her usual intelligent, witty and observational style with brilliant comic timing, including one that suggested Neil Young appeared on the album (a lad from Colne, as it happens). Later she regaled us with a story of how she’d recently managed to lock herself into a windowless van in a Birmingham car park while searching for a soiled nappy; it could have been a script straight out of ‘Fawlty Towers’. I’ve said before that she could be a stand-up comedian if she ever tired of the music.
Now in her mid-thirties she’s had the baby she almost had on ‘First Love’ and has gained with it a confidence and comportment she hasn’t always shown on stage in the past although she did manage to bang her face into the mic again, something that has become a party trick over the years.
I was keen to hear how her singing voice had changed if at all. She famously said not long after the album was released that what she thought sounded like Roger Moore giving a lecture on his prowess as James Bond was in reality more like that of a baby puking. And if you listen to the album that’s what you will hear. Not tonight though. That new-found confidence has invaded the larynx, infusing it with power and purpose.
The set comprised almost the entire 17-song album (and nothing else) and played in order, only ‘A bowl collecting blood’ was omitted, for reasons I don’t understand.
Emmy the Great is first and foremost a poet rather than a musician. Some of her early tunes here (though not on the latter two albums) were a bit thin, and there were the occasional bum notes played on three guitars and an electric piano tonight. Not that you’d notice it because you are riveted by her words.
A couple of random samples. The first from ‘Canopies and Drapes’, so representative of the Myspace era the album was recorded in. “My head hurts/I wish I’d never woke up/I feel worse/Than when S Club 7 broke up/I hate the day/It hates me/So does everybody else/I sit here drooling on my own again/And like a routine episode of Friends/What does it mean to be American?/Is it Feelings, coffee and I’ll be there for you?”
I wondered if that particular song would sound dated now. On the album it does, a little. But not on the night and neither did any of the others, which were all performed as if it was their first ever public airing.
While it received a surprisingly muted reaction at first on the night, many peoples’ favourite from the album is the title track, a four and a half minute allegorically-infused definitive rendition of a complete beginning-to-end story of a first love encounter, which is peerless and which ends with what is evidently a musical representation of a sexual climax.
“You said I have a room/At the top of the stairs/I have a room with a view/I know we all have a cross that we bear/And I’d like to give it to you/And I won’t forget how the sky was set/I said I have a place to go back to/La La La I will have you yet/I will carry you there if I have to.”
Shakespeare would be proud.
But even that was delivered not manically at the speed of a Bullet Train as I heard her do on the very same stage several years ago but in a sedate post-maternal style which even stretched to poignant encore-closer (and usually even more manic) ‘Edward is Dedward’. Emmy the Great v.2.0 is amongst us.
The ‘Virtue’ album is 10 years old in two years time. But before that anniversary comes around we will hopefully get ‘Third Love’ or perhaps ‘Third Time Lucky’. For my money, and certainly on the strength of this accomplished performance, this lady has barely scratched the surface of what she is capable of.
Support on the night came from Bishi, a West Londoner of Bengali family origin who turned up with the best Elvis quiff since Elvis and a glittery silver jacket that might have been worn by Danny la Rue. When she opened with what sounded like a Gregorian chant I wondered what we had in store but let me tell you this artist is well worth seeing. She found a perfect blend between western and eastern styles (most of her songs are underpinned by Indian beats), did a respectable imitation of Montserrat Caballé in her final song and performed the first electric sitar break I’ve ever seen. One to watch.