The Portland Arms, 4th April 2012
We are sat on the floor. Chatting, drinking, waiting for Liz Green to appear. Somewhere in the middle of the crowd, a girl stands up awkwardly and starts to sing a song. The song is Grinnin’ In Your Face, an ancient gospel-blues number by Son House. The girl is Liz Green.
It’s the perfect start to a decidedly strange evening. Liz Green has a voice like a Mancunian Billie Holliday, the perfect complement to her often unsettling brand of blues-folk. When the rest of the band clamber onto the stage three songs in (the trombonist is a little late), they prove a formidable presence. Alabaster dePlume, Green’s saxophonist and (as a guitarist/songwriter) her opening act, plays weird tenor with an originality you just don’t get in your average backing brass section. If only he didn’t keep bursting into fits of nasal, hysterical laughter, the band would be almost perfect. Having heard them playing on the beautifully tragic The Quiet (Green: “yup – another song about death!”), I’m tempted to ditch the ‘almost.’
No matter how odd things get, the audience’s goodwill is maintained by Green’s self-deprecating wit, stopping the moments of theatricality getting out of hand. Like the moment when she covers her head with a fabric bird-mask-hood to adopt her ‘Starling Joe’ stage persona, and sing (again unaccompanied) Who Killed Cock Robin, a folk ballad first printed in 1744. It could have been an awkward moment, but it’s met with silent attention by a crowd desperate not to break the spell. When the song ends, and when the applause finally dies down, she breaks it for us; “It’s so hot in there. It’s been three years since I made Starling Joe. I still haven’t got around to washing him.” Go see Liz Green. Concerts like this make the world a better, stranger place.
Tristram Fane Saunders