The view from King’s College is probably the best of all the student unions in London. The windows of the Venue Also Known As Tutu’s (after KCL alumnus Archbishop Desmond) provide you with a perfect picture of the dark sprawl of the Thames and the cubist confection of the National Theatre bathed in blue light.
The view however was not the main attraction tonight. This was the last date on Irish singer-songwriter Gemma Hayes brief UK tour to promote the follow up album to 2002′s Mercury-nominated Night On My Side.
Solid support came in the form of The Mono Band, the side project of The Cranberries’ guitarist Noel Hagan. The Monos’ lead singer may look like the bastard offspring of Cracker’s Lorcan Cranitch and Travis’ Fran Healey but he sang with the agreeable falsetto of the latter. Playing in a stripped down three-piece (“there’s usually seven of us” he informed the audience) their layered songs were textbook examples of compelling, if overly earnest, acoustic melancholy.
Hayes opened her set alone on the stage, just her and her guitar, allowing her strong voice to guide her performance, her Irish accent bleeding through into her singing in a very appealing manner. The song was a new one taken from the upcoming The Roads Don’t Love You as were the subsequent few numbers though for these she was joined on stage by her new band acquired in LA and complete with a keyboardist working an impressive white-boy afro.
She wasn’t stingy with giving us songs from her first album either, launching into Let A Good Thing Go and providing a cracking version of Hanging Around that certainly kept the Tourettes all-star dancers down the front happy. Ran For Miles was a particular highlight, a beautiful and evocative piece of songwriting. In comparison the new material didn’t quite reach the same heights; the songs were well constructed but they sounded more conventionally poppy than her previous work, forthcoming single Happy/Sad included. The exception was a song called Horses, a delicate creation that took her voice to new, pleasing places.
Hayes is a charismatic performer and, though her between-song banter was minimal, she managed to establish a warm rapport with the audience. It also has to be said that she’s an unarguably attractive woman, something the slack jaws of many of the male audience members was testament to. (“Comely” is the word my companion used after mulling it over for some considerable time.) When she informed the audience that her next song was entitled Easy On The Eye she was met with instant whoops and a shout of “Damn right you are,” a comment she met with good grace and a measure of endearing self-deprecation.
Her Californian band could have been tighter but Hayes herself was on strong form. With the exception of the sublime sounding Horses her new material did seem less interesting than her previous work, but not everything grabs you on the first listen and I’m hoping The Roads Don’t Love You will prove me wrong.