Friday, 17 August 2018

GIG REVIEW: Siobhan Miller - Kitchen Garden, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Thursday 16th August 2018

The festival scene can affect local gigs in various ways. While the mid-summer months often see audiences dwindle in the venues and artists focus on the outdoor season, circumstances can throw up productive opportunities. The decision by Siobhan Miller to postpone her Kitchen Garden debut in the winter and tag it onto the long journey south to play the Purbeck Valley Folk Festival handsomely paid off. Not only did it assumedly enable the four-band member set up to travel down, but it filled a gap in the venue’s schedule before the late summer/autumn extensive programme kicks off in earnest. It also helped that a packed Kitchen witnessed one of Scotland’s brightest young folk singers, an artist adept at using her blessed talent.

Although an inaugural visit to the Kitchen Garden, this was not Siobhan’s first show in Birmingham as she recalled playing the Hare and Hounds in the past with a fond recollection of the Beatles walking through the crowd. In fact, it will be a Brummie triple at the end of the month when she returns to play a set at Moseley Folk Festival. This evening Siobhan and her band, parading the sounds of acoustic and bass guitar, percussion and keys, had the attention all focussed on themselves as they rode through two forty-five minute sets on a night where no support meant a reasonably early finish.

Primarily, Siobhan Miller is a vocalist (no comfort blanket instrument plucking a few chords seen – the band did that job). Her style is a skilful mix of traditional and contemporary, with facets of each beaming out from the stage. The song content ranges from versions of ‘Bonny Light Horseman’ and the Burns’ standard ‘Green Grow the Rashes' to original material such as ‘Secrets and Lies’, written about her experience in New York. However, the bulk of what was heard tonight seemingly came from Siobhan’s acute ear of picking up on a song and successfully putting her own stamp on it. Her cover of Dylan’s ‘One Too Many Mornings’ is such an example and this acted as the first encore number before the band finally departed to allow Siobhan one final moment in the solitary spotlight.

The tunes filling the Kitchen this evening mainly came from her second and most recent album STRATA. Proceedings kicked off with ‘Banks of Newfoundland’ from this record and we went on to enjoy further tracks such as the protest piece ‘Pound a Week Rise’, the optimistic ‘What You Do with What You Got’ and the jovial singalong ‘The Ramblin’ Rover’. Perhaps the highlights of the album content shared were the beautiful ‘The Unquiet Grave’ seeing Siobhan accompanied only by the keys and a song sourced from Canada titled ‘Thanksgiving Eve’.

Throughout the gig, the band, with a lack of traditional instrumentation, gave the sound a contemporary feel. There was one moment during a new song when a canny resemblance to Blue Rose Code surfaced. You could quite envisage a duet between Ross Wilson and Siobhan such is the vocal harmony, a delightful blend of Caledonian soul.

If you had to pick between the two halves of this show, the second resounded greater. Without any expert opinion, the vocals elevated themselves higher than the instruments after the break when the set became more purposeful and forceful. The vocal talent of Siobhan was apparent throughout, but the performance during the second set penetrated a little deeper into an audience member still drying out from four intoxicating days at Cambridge Folk Festival.

Folk singalongs are a given and the Kitchen choir rose admirably to the occasion, peaking in the humorous finale of Siobhan recounting the ditty tale of ‘Cholesterol’ not being a bad thing. All left were a few merchandise sales including the popular vinyl and the band to continue their journey from Glasgow to the Dorset coast.

Not knowing too much about Siobhan Miller beforehand was no obstacle to enjoying this show. It is easy to catch up on her Scottish exploits online, including the impressive array of legendary figures she has worked with and the praise understandably heaped upon on somebody still relatively in their formative performing years. Alongside fellow Scot stalwarts like Julie Fowlis and Karine Polwart and prodigious upstarts like Iona Fyfe, Siobhan Miller is leading the way in how the art of the superlative folk song can blaze a trail away from its normal stomping grounds. A successful night as the long hot summer of 2018 began to subside.