Live Music + Gig Reviews

Leigh Franklin @ Soho Theatre, London

5 November 2000

To say that I was looking forward to hearing Leigh Franklin’s first proper London performance would be an understatement.

A week before her graceful entrance onto the stage of the sparkly Soho Theatre, Leigh had been kind enough to perform at an evening I organised in Fulham. The DJ/engineer hadn’t turned up and I had found myself doing my best to persuade a Mackie desk to be nice to her. It was an unfortunate combination that eventually ended up with sangria corrupting the Mackie’s works, but was perhaps also a fitting end to any presumptions I may have had about a career as a sound engineer. While concentrating on the sound mixing, I hadn’t really allowed myself to listen to Leigh’s songs; I had promised myself that tonight I would. So it proved that, like the rest of the full house at the Soho Theatre, I was mesmerised.

Hand-made invitations, programmes and mail box characterised the marketing going on around New Zealander Leigh’s acoustic music. In Fulham, she had effortlessly sang her way through some of her scenic moments with just her guitar for company. In Soho, she was joined for part of her set by a session jazz guitarist, James Longworth, and her former percussionist, Mark Kouvelis. It was perceived as a minor pity that a bass and drumkit were not added as well, for Leigh’s acoustic textures could easily benefit from such support.

Stand-out tracks included the evocative Instead, which I remembered from when I first heard her play at Moorgate Station on the Northern Line; Coward, which sounded great with accompaniment and How Can You Go On was excellent, but overall every song was different, despite most of them being performed by voice and acoustic guitar only – no mean feat. Some formed of jazz-based chord structures and some seemingly utilising chords no-one had ever thought of for guitar, the only change that would have improved the set would have been to add accompaniment or, preferably, a backing band of some description.

On one song, Leigh managed to sing solo with no accompaniment at all – perhaps this was a mistake, but Alanis Morissette did it. It isn’t Ms Morissette who springs to mind when seeking musical reference points for Leigh Franklin, however. Her songs are on the whole easily complicated and textured enough to take on Tori Amos, while her vocals/guitar combination is easily personal enough to give Lisa Loeb a run for her money. Just no big beats yet – but perhaps when she gets her first recording released she will move towards this. In the meantime, when the CD emerges (early next year), we should collectively sit back and be pleased that such a fine talent has chosen these shores on which to purvey her music.

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Leigh Franklin @ Soho Theatre, London