Words by Ed King / Pics by Denise Wilson
On Wednesday 28th June, Miranda Lee Richards played at the Ort Café in Balsall Heath – with support from My Autumn Empire and Ryan Sparrow.
Traversing the Atlantic to tour our tiny isle, Richards is on the UK road promoting Existential Beast – the fourth LP in her portfolio and the second released via Invisible Hands Music, the UK based home of Tangerine Dream, Hugh Cornwell and now Miranda Lee.
Ort is a good home too, one of our favourites. Just big enough to feel the safety of numbers; just small enough for an estate agent’s ‘…intimate’ up sell. Plus you’ll probably run into the band or artist that you’ve gone there to see, which whilst being an absurd obligation-by-proxy for the performer is useful when dragging a crowd off the sofa and into the suburbs.
I arrive at Ort in time to catch Ryan Sparrow “…just get on with it”, a local singer/songwriter and the first support act tonight. Lap guitar with slap tap percussion, confident, controlled; I only catch one song (indeed, the last) but pencil his name on ‘the list’. Watch out Mr Sparrow, we’re coming for you…
My Autumn Empire is the night’s second support act – the solo persona of ‘dream-pop experimentalists epic45’, or Ben as he’s called for short. Benjamin Thomas Holton is probably the safest/sanest middle ground, but my mind will now forever think of him as the bastard child of Neil Young and Message to Bears; sonorous vocals and jangly guitars, loops and peddles a plenty. Now what would our estate agent say… ‘atmospheric’.
“I’ll be playing from my last two records…” introduces Miranda Lee Richards, taking her place in front of the Ort crowd with seasoned confidence; intimate is not always a plus point, especially when there’s four of you in a corner.
Opening with ‘Toyko’s Dancing’ – a melodic message of hope or dystopia (I could never quite work out which) from her 2016 LP, Echoes of the Dreamtime – Richards’ voice lifts itself beautifully across the room. Her two guitar backing band (which makes three including her own) build a solid wall of Americana with country undertones, whist Sammy Smith picks up some equally beautiful harmonies. One track in; all is well.
‘On the Outside of Heaven’ picks up the pace next, with a lower range and tougher guitar punching out one of my favourite tracks from Richards’ more recent album. Then we’re straight into the “modern psychedelic trip” of ‘Lucid I Did Dream’ – another strong album track from Existential Beast, with a pretty superlative solo guitar from Randy Billings. Then back to Echoes… for ‘Colours So Fine’, more mellifluous vocals, guitar solos and melodies that boarder the addictive.
The most beautiful thing at play tonight is proficiency; Miranda Lee Richards and her band have absolute control over what their sound is, what it’s going to become and what they need to do to deliver it – even knowing “how many guitarist does it take to tune a twelve string?” (the correct answer beginning with, are we in Portugal?)
And Richards’ last two albums, released within eighteen months of each other, have shown a rounded development – two confident strides from a musician who you felt never wanted to run the majors’ race in the first place. Lyrically we’re heading more towards poetry than prose, which you could argue either way, but the overall feels immensely believable. An intelligent songwriter.
However tonight’s set feels a touch like it’s suffering, which could be from the rigors road but could also be a tired dedication to a pitch perfect performance. There is a request to the sound desk in between each song, with an air of irritation at things most stages will have to contest with. Ha, what a criticism – stop being so good you meticulous creative. But as an audience member in a small room I want to be brought in, not just allowed.
The rest of the set moves from the country confessions of ‘Blood on My Hands’, through the “medieval folk… a template for a story” of ‘Oh Raven’, to the title and neighbor album tracks of Existential Beast – aspects of ‘Autumn Sun’ reminding me so much of ‘Thirteen’ I’ve been singing the Elliot Smith song all week. Well the second verse anyway.
Our encore begins with ‘Ashes and Seeds’ – the confident opening track to Existential Beast, and closes with a track I couldn’t cite retrospectively. Although I wish it had been ‘Golden Gate’.
But the walls warm up, the room stretches out, and after being reminded to “stay for a drink afterwards” half the room falls into the relaxed punch drunk camaraderie of a successful Christmas, albeit one spent at someone else’s house. Not a bad outcome for a 10,000 mile round trip; now’s where’s the corkscrew in this kitchen…
‘Lucid I Would Dream’ – Miranda Lee Richards
For more on Miranda Lee Richards, visit www.mirandaleerichards.com
For more from My Autumn Empire, visit www.myautumnempire.co.uk
For more from Ryan Sparrow, visit www.ryansparrowmusic.co.uk
For more from Ort Cafe, including a full events programme and online ticket sales, visit www.ortcafe.co.uk
For more for Birmingham Promoters, visit http://www.birminghampromoters.com/