Art and Music      
Christopher Ward London


Beth Orton at The Slaughtered Lamb

A few Sunday’s ago I went to see Beth Orton play an acoustic gig at The Slaughtered Lamb.  Beth cheekily whispered into the microphone “thanks for coming… to this celebration… of Trailer Park”.  She was wearing jeans and checked shirt, converse and cardy. I liked the fact that she hadn’t glammed herself up partly being naturally pretty and a 6ft tall clothes horse, she doesn’t need to, but mainly that she treats it as a ‘listen to me’ rather than ‘look at me’ event.  I couldn’t believe I was listening to songs from Trailer Park - they sounded so much better.  The first thing I did when I got home was stick on the album trying to figure out what the difference was.  I realized that to listen to someone’s voice as it had matured was a real testament to the quality of the songwriting. The songs sung by someone in their early twenties could have completely different resonance when sung by the same person in their late thirties. Orton’s live voice is so strong and carried the songs through to 2009, enhancing the meaning in her lyrics.  When Trailer Park came out the songs didn’t seem ‘overly mature’ to have been written by a girl in her mid-twenties and to hear them now they don’t seem dated. The gig was an in an intimate downstairs room, no stage, people sat on the floor or on chairs.

I am at a time in my life when everything seems to have become about email, Facebook, Twitter, texting and experiencing emotions through machines, so being 10ft away from somebody singing live who has such a powerful voice puts a lot of the disconnected day to day things we do into perspective.  It’s a simple thing but now feels rare. Orton seemed oblivious to how captivated her audience were, apologizing for something after every song - forgetting lyrics, not getting the high notes high enough, or pointing out her flaws.  I love going to gigs where young bands shout it out into the mic, hiding the vocal amongst the drums and electric guitars – the energy, spirit, moment – so I was pretty shocked to be so enthralled by an acoustic gig.

A&M’s music editor David Sheppard reviewed Trailer Park when it came out in 1996 and revisited it in our Spirng Issue, describing, with the benefit of hindsight,  the folk/dance mix that made Beth a star. I like the fact that what made Trailer Park successful was that she had mixed folk with dance, indie with mainstream… but now you can just listen to acoustic versions of the songs in a completely separate way.  It made me think that is only something that could come with age.  And that is a great revelation.


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