Review: Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo at The Junction – 11th November

Katie Threadgill 15 November 2013

Warm and endearing, witty and sweet; Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo are the perfect pick-me-up, for a chilly November evening.

The British music scene at present is hardly lacking in singer-songwriters. In particular, there is many a female performer grappling to follow in Laura Marling’s dainty footsteps. Yet, Emily Barker earns her stripes as a credible artist making credible music.

Sadly, the set list was rather ill-conceived. Beginning with the rather insipid ‘Dear River’; a safe and unexciting country tune, the first gem appeared a good few songs in: ‘Letters’ – inspired by correspondences found from her grandfather while in exile on the Dutch-German border during the Second World War.

Unsurprisingly, ‘Home’ – “a love song to Cambridge”, where Emily spent three years while travelling, living in the YMCA and working in a record shop – was a hit at The Junction. Equally, ‘A Spadeful of Ground’, an ode to the horrors of colonisation in her native Australia, was poignant and sharp. However in general, Emily’s melodies were most special when the tempo dropped and the mood darkened. Although on the one hand it was admirable for Emily and her band to commit to some more fast-paced rock tunes (a choice too many of her contemporaries would shy away from), it was in these songs that she crept towards something a little predictable and a little cautious.

The Red Clay Halo, Emily’s backing band consisting of violin, cello/bass and accordion/flute/keyboard, are undeniably talented, if a little uninspired. It took until the last handful of songs for them to charm us with a smile, in a riotous extended instrumental in ‘Fields of June’. This wonderful ballad of murder and deceit also featured a self-conscious but audience-pleasing performance by a willing volunteer from the front row (taking on the part usually sung by Frank Turner, with whom Emily and the band have toured extensively), making for an exceptional highlight. A debauched accordion solo and stormy string sections went a good way to make up for the band’s initially stony expressions.

A special mention must go to the support act, Chris T-T, for an impressively nihilistic sensibility, and for remaining composed whilst performing such inspired lines as “I’m so wired/I feel like a box of wires”. Domestic violence, car crashes, Alzheimer’s and the creation of the M1; perhaps having such clumsily written and awkwardly performed songs on a variety of miserable topics before the main act was all part of a greater plan to make us appreciate the gentle elegance of Emily Barker.

Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo aren’t going to start a riot or inspire a revolution. Equally, they’re not the most poetically stirring band out there. Yet, through a combination of beautifully delivered vocals, skilled musicianship and pleasing melodies, they certainly make for a satisfying listen.