The ‘live album’ is a curious beast – although extremely popular, you have to wonder whether they appeal to anybody who isn’t just seeking a souvenir of an extraordinary performance they once witnessed. For a live album has to be something particularly special: nothing can quite match up to the power of physically being in the same room as the artist.
Antony Hegarty obviously likes the concept of a live album, however. Turning is the third live album of his career, following Live At St Olive’s and 2012’s Cut The World, and was recorded at the Barbican in London in 2006 for a concert that featured Hegarty performing alongside 13 different women. Hegarty has described the tour as some of the most important work of his career, and in his own words, “explored the intersection between images of contemporary trans-femininity and visions of pioneering future feminist artists”.
While the visuals are obviously missing from the album (although there is an accompanying DVD which is well worth seeking out), it sounds as exquisitely lush as you would imagine. This is beautifully crafted music, perfectly performed by Hegarty and his band. From the opening rolling piano chords of Everything Is New, right up to the stark, sad coda of Tears Tears Tears, it’s a compelling listen, dominated by the almost painfully beautiful vocals from Hegarty.
For he has one of those voices that can just transport you to a different place – it’s a voice of sheer emotion and longing, full of sadness, pain and melancholy. Just listening to the opening lines of For Today I Am A Boy can send goosebumps down the spine, and Hope There’s Someone still has the same unique power that it held over the listener on its release nearly a decade ago. Although these arrangements aren’t radically different to the studio versions, they still make for a beautiful listen.
The setlist features tracks from all four Antony & The Johnsons albums, dating back to Cripple & The Starfish from their debut, right up to songs from The Crying Light and Swanlights, which weren’t released until years after this performance. Listening to these early renditions is fascinating – there’s a real pulse and energy to Kiss My Name, while the 6 and a half minute One Dove has a passion and intensity that almost becomes hard to listen to. Where Is My Power is the one song that the more casual Hegarty fan may not have encountered before – here performed as a beautifully stripped down ballad which beautifully meshes Hegarty’s plaintive piano chords with some stirring string and horn arrangements.
As ever with live albums though, while Turning is a lovely listen, it doesn’t quite beat witnessing the performance itself. It makes for a decent compilation if you’re not already familiar with Hegarty’s material as it features many of his best tracks, but the long-term fan will struggle to find too much of interest. Yet it makes for an excellent souvenir of a band at the height of their powers – and, of course, any excuse to listen to music this beautiful and otherworldly is a good one.