This week, Jane Siberry embarks on her first tour of the British Isles for a good while.
- Whelan’s, 25 Wexford Street, Dublin 2, Ireland, Friday 9th September 2016, 8.00pm (with Ruth) – information
- The Queens Hall, 85-89 Clerk Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9JG, Scotland, Friday 16th September 2016, 7.30pm (with Carol Laula) – information
- The Convent, Convent Lane, South Woodchester, Stroud, GL5 5HS, England, Sunday 18th September 2016, 9.00pm (with The Blackheart Orchestra) – information
- Henry Tudor House, Barracks Passage, Wyle Cop, Shrewsbury, SY1 1XA, England, Monday 19th September 2016, 8.00pm (with The Blackheart Orchestra) – information
- The Trades Club, Holme Street, Hebden Bridge, HX7 8EE, England, Thursday 22nd September 2016, 8.00pm (with The Blackheart Orchestra) – information
- The Greystones, Greystones Road, Sheffield, S11 7BS, England, Friday 23rd September 2016, 7.30pm (with Delilah Montagu) – information
- Kitchen Garden Café, 17 York Road, Kings Heath, Birmingham, B14 7SA, England, Sunday 25th September 2016, 7.30pm (withThe Blackheart Orchestra) – information
- St John’s Church, St John’s Street, Farncombe, Godalming, GU7 3EJ, England, Wednesday 28th September 2016, 7.45pm (with The Blackheart Orchestra) – information
- The Stables, Stockwell Lane, Wavendon, Milton Keynes, MK17 8LU, England, Thursday 29th September 2016, 8.45pm (with LeeSun) – information
- Brighton Unitarian Church, New Road, Brighton, BN1 1UF, England, Friday 30th September 2016, 7.30pm (with The Blackheart Orchestra) – information
- Chapel Arts Centre, St Oaks Memorial Hall, Lower Borough Walls, Bath, BA1 1QR, England, Sunday 2nd October 2016, 8.00pm (with Balsamo Deighton) – information
- St James Theatre, 12 Palace Street, Westminster, London, SW1E 5JA, England, Monday 3rd October 2016, 7.15pm (with The Blackheart Orchestra) – information
- Stromness Town Hall, Church Road, Stromness, Orkney, KW16 3BA, Scotland, Friday 7th October 2016, 7.30pm (solo show) – information (note – this date is listed on some places but not currently on Jane’s own site, so check before committing)
Sometimes, to her chagrin, Jane’s been tagged as “the Canadian Kate Bush” – a tag which is at least as constrictive as it is helpful. Unfair as it might be, the comparison holds true and is a good place to start. Early musical developers, women of a similar age and independent-mindedness, Jane and Kate both realised their full powers and creative approaches during a boomtime of studio-bound 1980s art pop. Pioneering later self-propelled female studio auteurs, both kept absolute control of their songwriting and mastered enough of the necessary technology to dictate form as well as content, working as meticulous musical painters, dramatists and refractors. Both have favoured carefully-chosen instrumentation, sonorities and song structures, neither of which necessarily follow common practise or expectations (and neither of which they’ve felt obliged to stick to, preferring to change formulae whenever inspiration and craft took them there). Most crucially, both of them have a sweeping emotional effect on listeners, transcending both genre and gender.
The differences, though, are as significant and illustrative as the similarities. Genius notwithstanding, Kate’s creativity was cosseted in an indulgent arts-and-crafts family background, and the recording and development deal she’d gained by her mid-teens ensured that she didn’t have to slog her way up with hard gigging in parallel with grinding dayjobs. This, plus the overwhelming commercial success which came from her first single onwards, ensured the shape and circumstances of her work to come. Hers was a unfettered imagination fuelled by spliff and arts and cocooned in recording studios, voraciously processing mythology and literature to spin out detailed and immersive storydramas in pop form, all contained within a wary privacy she’s maintained to this day. In some respects Kate’s never left the book-lined bedrooms of her childhood: she’s simply extended them, and grown within the bigger space she made there.
Jane’s, on the other hand, has been a less charmed or settled road. An uneasy family life and childhood led to a voyage into a university degree which soon morphed, dissatisfied, from music to microbiology, then work as a waitress in order to self-fund a tightly-budgeted debut record. Perhaps it’s these elements which have inspired the elements of research quirk and observational stillness in parts of her songcraft, from the twinkling electronic dissections of beachlife on her first hit (Mimi On The Beach) to the moments, when in otherwise warm and involved musical landscapes she appears to pull back, tilting her gaze askance, casting a cool bright birdlike eye on the matter: not necessarily making conclusions, but grabbing a quick and open assessment of what’s going on, whether or not details have fallen into a conclusive pattern.
Certainly her songcraft reflects an edgier, more marginal, creative life; intelligent and existential, but fully in touch with the irrational and perverse. While Kate’s catalogue dramatizes odd states and situation, Jane’s songbook seems more of a recounting. She has, in moments of straightforward generosity or acceptance, delivered art-pop singalongs such as The Life Is The Red Wagon or the rapturous k.d. lang duet Calling All Angels; in bouncier times, she’s delivered songs about dogs and people or childhood hockey games. When certain moods have taken her, she’s carved out monumental, borderline-impenetrable audio-literary mysteries such as The Bird In The Gravel.
Yet she’ll also touch uneasily, obliquely, but always openly on subjects such as alcoholism and mental disturbance which might or might not be first-hand, and in ways which tide the listener into the heart of the situation – the compulsive, brittle, confessional dream-suite Oh My My which swallows up the second half of 1989’s ‘Maria’; the title track to ‘The Walking (and Constantly)’, which casts a heartbreaking light on the trudge and hysteria of grieving; or the disturbingly open-ended half-story of The Lobby (a incomplete, displaced female narrative with a chillingly sad tune, which might be about dementia, bereavement, social defiance or a mixture of all three).
Over thirty-five years Jane’s music has flowed and curved from her early folk-and-synths period to the grand studio-as-instrument art-pop shapings of ‘The Walking’ and ‘When I Was A Boy’ to the embracing of tones from Canadian country, big-band soul and Celtic fusion. In more recent years, you can hear her conceptual thumbprint (if only in the shape of an elusive transmitted meme and method) in the work of a newer crop of independent female songwriters such as Jenny Hval. Her latest record, the crowd-funded ‘Ulysses’ Purse’, takes elements of all of these strands only to strain and diffuse them into gentle atmospherics around a core of some of Jane’s finest songs to date.
As with form, so with content. As Jane turns sixty, the focus of her songcraft has turned towards the significant but under-explored passage out of middle-age, in which neither work or life is over and done yet, but old disagreements must be put to rest and the scattered aspects of personhood and affection allowed to settle into the character you’ll need to take you through the next stage. Perhaps committed to communicating the album’s simplicity in action as well as concept (and perhaps transforming her budget restrictions into a broadening of the message), Jane’s been touring it low-budget and solo, with the minimum of instruments. For the British gig, she’s even laid some troubadour plans to make the journey between gigs on foot (when possible), accompanied only by her dog.
* * * * * * * *
The range of Jane’s tour guests – straightforward, but telling in tone – suggest that she’s put active thought and choice into the arrangements.
In the studio, The Blackheart Orchestra‘s Chrissy Mostyn and Richard Pilkington sometimes make the mistake of corraling multi-instrumental skills into recordings which over-egg and over-slick the substance of their songs. Live, however, is where to catch them and where everything works: with Richard carrying out carefully-timed and layered instrumental changes under Chrissy’s storyteller guitar and full, mesmeric voice, their compelling, atmospheric storytelling pop comes into focus. They’re with Jane for around half of the tour dates, an arrangement and environment which seems set to bring out the best in them: maybe not so much a learning environment as one which might convince them to bring their leaner, more spontaneous live strengths fully back into their recordings.
In place for the Bath date, Balsamo Deighton (a spinoff duo from late Brit-country band The Storys, featuring sometime theatre-musical star Steve Balsamo and former Deighton Family singer Rosalie Deighton) have a confident, Gram-and-Emmylou/Alison Krauss-inspired West Coast sound, nicely reflecting Jane’s own rootsier country leanings (as well as providing a more traditional songwriting style for her to kick off from).
For the Edinburgh show, Jane’s scored a coup by enticing her friend Carol Laula into a support slot. Carol’s one of those adult pop artists – thoroughly successful in their own sphere – who can slip clear away from the radar of younger, more experimentally-inclined listeners only to rush back in unexpectedly, a welcome gust of fresh air and vision. Noted for the warmth, engagement and humility of her gigs, Carol is another tourmate choice reflecting a past and current aspect of Jane – this time, the rapport with an audience through melodic and personal openness, the dedication to dynamiting preciousness in favour of rapport.
Kerry-based popster Ruth (who opens the first show of the tour at Whelan’s in Dublin) is less of an established quality, having only begun making a name for herself this year/ That said, her debut single Who Are You Living For? has already revealed prodigious depth and subtlety. Exploring anger, hurt, sympathy, reproach and concern in a single package, tied together with rapier-sharp insight: one to add to the list of big-hearted/let-down woman songs. While I suspect that Ruth might be turning up to the Siberry gig with minimal instrumentation, it also shows that she can flush a current dancetronic wallpaper-of-sound production style with the vivid intelligent personality of the expert singer-songwriter, moving from probing Wurlitzer-chime verses to explode into a grand CCM pop chorus. Ruth’s next single, out this month, is called Queen Of The Con. Clearly I’ll need to pay careful attention.
Similarly fresh on the scene but much, much more elusive is Delilah Montagu, who’s supporting at Sheffield and who keeps a bizarrely low media profile, with nary a song or a picture to be found to help build a profile. Apparently a gifted Joni Mitchell/Laura Marling-inspired singer and guitarist, she’s another early starter (first song written at eight, work being performed by choir and orchestra by the time she was eleven), and while she’s apparently been making a small, solid splash at selected regional folk festivals this year, her highest profile one seems to have been supporting similarly obscure art-folk trio Paradisia in a Stoke Newington pub cellar.
It seems as if this new support slot’s a jump up for Delilah… or maybe not. Despite the radio silence, she already comes garlanded with industry praise (from the likes of Simon Climie), and a little digging does reveal that she’s a scion of the eye-wateringly costly liberal-arts school Bedales, who’ve already rolled out pop alumni such as Marika Hackman, Lily Allen, baritone moodist Gabriel Bruce and blues-rocker Leah Mason – plus Cara Delevingne – and for whom she scored the school musical ‘Sound of The Night Feather’ before graduating). Everything about Delilah seems to mutter “carefully groomed for stealth success”, but, as ever, you can’t fake that kind of a thing in front of a cult audience like Jane’s; so I’m assuming that whoever picked her (and it could well be Jane herself) knows what they’re doing.
Amongst the tour guests, maybe the closest to Jane in terms of spirit is LeeSun, who’s supporting her at Milton Keynes. Korea-born, Canada-raised and now Leeds-based, Lee originally comes from witty, deceptively whimsical jazz-pop (if her Calgary-recorded, Wurlitzer-chiming 2011 debut, ‘Prime’, is anything to go by – check it out, since it’s a secret gem, and in line with Jane’s own lighter, perkier musings). Since then, changes in life and perspective have led her towards stretched-out, semi-spiritual chamber pop ballads which explore from the creche to the cosmos: swaddled but epic, tinted with rocking lullaby rhythms and touches of sleepy string jazz. I’m not sure what she’ll bring to the party at this point – hopefully some of the brave, open fragility of her recent singles, some of the Blossom Dearie wit of ‘Prime’, and some of the cool, defiant, musing commentary that’s evident from her podcasts in which she questions the way in which a patriarchal Western world distorts her situation (single mother, south-east Asian roots, self-possessed singleton) into that of some kind of resident alien.