Roisin Murphy

at the iTunes Live London Sessions

The penultimate iTunes London Session doesn’t have the same level of free-for-all collaboration as some of the other nights.

The evening is split straightforwardly into two halves, the first showcasing singer-songwriter Yoav and Icelandic chanteuse Thórunn (on loan from her day job as a member of indie rockers Fields), and the second featuring Róisín Murphy and Tony Christie. Yes, that
Tony Christie – he of “(Is this the Way to) Amarillo” fame.

But, first, Yoav. There are fewer more underwhelming sights in music than a man ambling on stage, equipped only with an acoustic
guitar and a serious facial expression. But out of this most inauspicious of entrances springs a genuinely innovative performance. Every inch of Yoav’s guitar is slapped, scraped and tapped to produce rhythms which are then stacked on top of each other using a loop pedal. One number even resembles a rave anthem – no mean feat when there’s not a single keyboard in sight. Some of Yoav’s songs fail to marry his ingenious arrangements with sufficiently interesting words and melodies, but it’s a captivating performance nonetheless.

He’s joined on stage all-too-briefly by the preternaturally beautiful Thórunn. Together they perform an oddly funereal version of the Pixies’ “Where is My Mind?”. And then Thórunn is gone, followed, one song later, by Yoav.

This business-like briskness is maintained throughout the rest of the evening, as Róisín Murphy plays a concise six-song set drawn mainly from her most recent LP, Overpowered. The album is a celebration of synth pop in all its forms, so the news that tonight’s performance will be pared-down and mainly acoustic can’t fail to disappoint at first.

But any apprehension is swept aside by the opening bars of “Move Star”. The electronic throb of the recorded version is replaced ably by some insistent guitar, over which Murphy’s faultless vocals are given acres of space in which to unfurl. It’s an exemplary exercise in how to re-model a dance track for an acoustic setting, and the rest of the performances follow suit.

“Primitive” is just that: drumless and skeletal, but soulful and riveting. A slowed-down and stately version of “Overpowered” doesn’t miss its squiggly synth line at all. That’s not to say that the audience didn’t get a chance to cut some rug: the frenetic “Ramalama” has an unhinged quality which recalls the singer’s former band Moloko; it even features some hilariously rubbish Charleston-style
dancing from Ms Murphy during the cod-jazz breakdown.

And then Tony Christie arrives. Any fears of camp gimmickry prove unfounded, as they perform an entirely straight-faced version of “Scarlet Ribbons”, written by Murphy as a tribute to her father. It’s touching and really quite moving – another surprise in an evening full of unexpected delights.

Photography: Mark Pinson

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