Billy Bragg & KT Tunstall

Together at the iTunes Live London Sessions

iTunes Live bills itself as ?a celebration of the art of the singer/songwriter? and ?a unique concept for live music?.

You could spend all week trying to extract some genuine substance from those statements, so here?’s a rough translation: lovely, pretty AIR Studios in Hampstead plays host to eleven gigs on consecutive nights. Each gig involves a group of performers who perform individual sets and share the stage in various combinations. Each show will later be available to download on iTunes so you can watch it on your computer or iPod.
This the fourth night, and first up is Leo Abrahams. His pleasant if inconsequential ambience gives way to quickly singer-songwriter Foy Vance. He?’s a capable singer and musician, but he actually becomes less interesting the more blustery and impassioned he gets. Ultimately, his Celtic-tinged folk rock is indistinguishable from Damien Rice or, worse still, Hothouse Flowers.

?Indistinguishable? isn’?t a word you could use to describe Billy Bragg. Now in his fiftieth year, you?d call him a ?national treasure? if that didn’?t sound so condescending. Playing a mix of oldies, covers and songs from his new album ‘Mr Love & Justice’, he?’s in typically witty form. An anecdote based around the term ?teabagging? is particularly funny, even if you suspect it goes over many attendees? heads.

Call me shallow, but the set only dipped when he went into politicised mode. His speechifying about ?cynicism? and the need for ?faith? were well-intentioned, but they marked awkward changes in tone a bit like the closing stages of an episode of Scrubs, where the wacky humour lulls for JD?s voice-over to convey a ?message?.

KT Tunstall?’s detractors like to lump her in with the likes of Dido and Sandi Thom ? bloodless Sainsbury?s rock for indifferent music consumers. But she?’s much better than that. Tunstall has paid her indie dues as part of Fife?’s Fence collective (whose ranks also include King Creosote and James Yorkston) and you get the impression she has a much better record collection than, say, Katie Melua (she reveals that her mega-hit ‘?Suddenly I See’? is about Patti Smith, which may not be new information but it was certainly news to me).

That doesn?’t mean she?s beyond reproach, though. Her songs veer between the inoffensive and pleasant with ?few, if any, musical risks taken and the aggression and individuality of her idol Patti Smith is nowhere to be seen. Her USP would seem to be the loop pedal, a clever little device which samples live sounds, enabling the performer to build elaborate backing tracks on the spot. Tunstall may not have the patent on the pedal, but she can claim to have pioneered its use in her career-boosting performance on Jools Holland a few years back. Now it?s fairly ubiquitous? even Foy Vance is getting in on the act earlier in the evening.

Once Tunstall?’s finished her solo set, she?’s joined by the other performers for a few more numbers, which include a cover of ?’The Drugs Don’?t Work?’ and a new song that she and Bragg wrote specially for the evening. Overall, it?s a warm (literally, thanks to some over-zealous central heating) and intimate evening.

It’?s unlikely that those qualities can be captured on a teeny iPod screen, however; as with any gig, you probably had to be there.

Visit our microsite for the full lowdown on the Sessions

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