I’ve travelled a long way to be here, waiting to watch Rae Morris perform in the Birmingham Institute – a venue that holds some of the more prominent plot points of my life. I launched one business in the attic and lost another in the basement. And now I’m fifteen minutes from seeing Atlantic Records’ rising balloon play to a sold out Temple room.
Which, by the way, is freezing – but the buzz within it is palpable; over familiar voices making references in first name terms, brandishing selfies and anecdotes. At the bar, where I am crouching tiger hidden dragon, an arrogant squabble forgets they’re not the only ones here tonight and invite ripples of sideways glances from everyone else. I’ve never understood how thick your skin needs to be, to be this rude. Even as they mouth and joke an over extended “ssssshhhhhhhh”. What precisely have they come here for? More first name terms flicker from their mouths.
After about half a pint the lights go down, the front row whoops, and the tick-tock of Skin – the opening track on Rae Morris’s recently release debut album – indicates the show has begun. The loud in the crowd continues.
Rae Morris thunders her sonorous voice out over the heavily compelling first track, filtering soft keys in between the metronome of prerecorded effects and loops. Her vocals are quite something, and as she drives straight into Grow and This Time I’m thinking of synonyms for ‘booming’ and ‘deep’. I honestly wasn’t expecting such an impressive live singer.
A short but endearing Lancashire drawl welcomes us to the gig, where Rae Morris intends to “…play the songs you like” before moving into the title track from her new album – Unguarded. Morris bobs around behind the keyboard as the chatter from the obnoxious bar brigade reaches an almost autistic level of detachment. I exchange my sideways glances for a stare, then a tap on the shoulder.
Rae Morris moves straight into Closer, which is click slick on the album but comes up a little short on stage; before the first keyboard led offering arrives in the newly produced Don’t Go, the first single Morris released through Atlantic in 2012.
It’s a welcome step down from the overzealous samples and production (do we really need wind noises?) and even the twats to my right (I lose my finesse when frustrated) realise we’ve not come to hear them. But it’s still a little flat, to me. I like my keys made of ivory and the people playing them to be alone under spotlight.
Then, with the always delicious irony of proving me wrong, Morris introduces a song she “likes to talk about, but will stop talking” and the firm lament of For You gets brought into the room by solo keys and vocals. Even when the band come in the driving force still drives, and for a few minutes I’m selfishly happy. That Rae Morris is talented and with something significant to offer has never been under question to me, but her direction sometimes has. Then as I watch her perform For You, with a band and sampler in tow, to a full capacity room in Birmingham, I remind myself not to worry.
Fryars, who is supporting Rae Morris on her album promoting endevours, then returns on stage to sing the second part vocals to Cold – presenting the precious pairing that made one of the highlights on Unguarded. Both artists worth some attention this year.
The rest of the set rolls through a few of Morris’ less memorable album tacks, including the disturbingly faux piano 90’s house riff of Morne Fortune, before an encore rounds up the evening with a remastered version of Not Knowing and the assiduously addictive Under the Shadows.
I skip the rush and make my way to the cloakroom before my purported hypothermia sets in (I haven’t tackled an English February in years). I am cold but happy; tonight has been a joy to attend. A lot has been achieved by Rae Morris, both at this gig (selling out in Birmingham on a winter Thursday is no mean feat) and on her path to get Unguarded recorded and released, and I am tick box content to have finally seen her live.
But the essence – the fishing hook that left me standing dumbstruck in my kitchen, making toast with my mouth open – was seldom surfaced tonight. And as the trajectory steepens for this artist I can’t imagine much will change. But as I quip to an old colleague I meet on the stairs, “I’m just a 37 year old with a Tori Amos hangover, and probably in the minority.”
I’ve also been listening to Unguarded on repeat for the past five days (albeit switching to her previous EPs once Cold has finished) and Morris’ ability to pen as well as perform her wares is a ferocious tool in her arsenal.
There is actual talent in Rae Morris, as a singer, as a songwriter, and as an endearing performer. She’s also on a label with a reassuring portfolio. And whilst I’m not the only one who’s travelled a long way to be here tonight, all I had to do was play airport hopscotch and drink duty free wine.
For more on Rae Morris, visit http://www.raemorris.co.uk/
For more from Atlantic Records, visit http://www.atlanticrecords.com/
For further listings from the Institute, visit http://theinstitutebirmingham.com/listings