For some gigs you want to get right down into the thick of it and are happy to leave knackered of knees, hoarse of throat and sweaty all over. And sometimes it’s a real pleasure to get your own comfy seat in an immaculate theatre room with flawless acoustics. This is one of those welcome nights where the only jostling to be done is with my own arse as I try to get as settled as possible, ready to enjoy the distinctive charm of The Be Good Tanyas.
The Royal Northern College of Music is a superb venue for this kind of concert. Even though I’m way in the back of the hall, the music feels right in front of my face. The support comes from Northumberland lass Emily Portman, whose narrative songs and sweetly quirky voice are a discovery. The capacity crowd show their appreciation loudly, and not long after they raise the volume even more as The Be Good Tanyas take the stage. This is one of the last nights of a short UK tour by the Canadian trio, in support of their recently released career retrospective, 'A Collection (2000-2012)'. Lead vocalist Frazey Ford creeps into the spotlight as multi-instrumentalist Trish Klein straps a guitar on and a new face takes stage left. Founder member Sam Parton has been temporarily replaced by Caroline Ballhorn, this due to a serious car crash that left Parton’s back in too delicate a state for air travel.
Ford comes over as shy, despite being dressed in a white dress topped off with a fascinator in her hair, which she later reveals to be a doily from her great grandmother. Two countrified looking fellas man the drums and the big double bass behind the girls and the band launch into the plaintive 'In My Time of Dying'. Their unmistakeable sound audibly moves the audience, as if there’s a collective yet silent “Yessss,” in everyone’s mind. Ballhorn soon proves a worthy stand-in for Parton and she gently executes a cute little bop on the spot throughout the night. Ford begins to relax a few songs in, her nervous between-song banter revealing how they got lost looking for art museums in Manchester and their newfound love of Michael Jackson. Klein deftly switches between banjo and a range of guitars as they cherry pick tracks from the albums 'Blue Horse', 'Chinatown' and 'Hello Love'. The evening also includes a few tracks from Ford’s 2012 solo album 'Obadiah' – although notably absent is that album’s finest moment, 'Firecracker'.
The Be Good Tanyas have a gift for cover versions, lending their own intimate and sometimes eerie sound to a range of timeworn gems, and tonight they treat us to Dylan’s 'One More Cup Of Coffee', Neil Young’s 'Birds' and a triumphant version of 'For The Turnstiles' with Klein taking lead vocals and nailing it. It’s a shame they don’t play their haunting cover of Townes Van Zandt’s 'Waiting 'Round To Die', but in the encore they make up for any disappointment with an equally brilliant and amusing rendition of Prince’s 'When Doves Cry' - garnished with a Michael Jackson dance! All up it was a finger picking, foot tapping, lung tingling triumph.
Words and photos by Nick Rice