When Amy Macdonald released debut album This Is the Life some ten years ago now at the tender age of just 19, it was both critically acclaimed and commercially successful in the UK and Europe, landing at number one and winding up three times Platinum in the UK and five times in Germany. With few independent female solo artists breaking through in the UK at the time, mixed among the ever-increasing output from TV talent shows, hers was a sound unlike others, her distinctive Celtic voice adding another dimension to clever yet hook-laden songs.
Ten years on, Macdonald is back with her fourth studio album, and fourth to peak within the top five on the UK album charts, and deservedly so. This year the now 30-year-old songstress has already sold out a massive 13-date UK tour, including a magical night at the Royal Albert Hall, and following her stint on the summer festival circuit is quietening things down for the remainder of the year with a series of intimate, acoustic dates kicking off with tonight’s special show at new London venue Omeara, opened last year by Mumford & Sons guitarist and Communion label boss Ben Lovett.
Macdonald appears on the tiny stage alongside her three-piece band to cheers, dressed simply in black jeans and a black t-shirt, taking up position in front of her bespoke microphone featuring a sparkly St Andrew’s Cross design and kicks off the night with the title track from fourth album, Under Stars. The band’s not so smooth transition into 2010 single Spark begins the first of Macdonald’s often lengthy conversations with her audience in fine comedic form.
The stripped-back, acoustic renditions continue with Under Stars single Dream On, the 350-strong crowd singing along finely with the up-tempo album opener after which the 30-year-old speaks in length with her audience for the first time. “It’s really strange to be in such a small venue again, but it is really nice, a little bit nerve-wracking because I can see everyone’s face, but you guys look more nervous than I do!” she says before going on to speak of her ten years since This Is the Life was released. “We thought it would be nice to strip things back after 10 years of craziness to go back to basics and come back into the small venues to do a little acoustic set for you guys.”
Introducing Life In A Beautiful Light single Pride as a song she wrote of her feeling after singing the Scottish national anthem at a football match, she jests: “it’s really the only good feeling from watching Scotland play football” to laughs, the songstress going on to lead the London crowd to clap along with the jolly tune. This Is the Life cut Run is introduced as being inspired by The Killers and attending live gigs, a late addition to Macdonald’s first album which, to the horror of her record label, was only written and played to them after the album was already locked down but which had to be recorded and added to it regardless.
Delicate piano from Thom Kirkpatrick kicks off ballad Never Too Late, Macdonald’s voice coming through stronger and far more raw than on record, the repurposed railway arch venue crowd awed into near silence before the tempo picks up once again with debut album song Mr Rock And Roll, Kirkpatrick’s Mandolin adding an extra dimension to this acoustic rendition.
Speaking out against those filming the show on their phones the Glasgow-native pleads “I’ve been going for ten years, all these videos are already on YouTube guys” before going on to thank the audience for helping her fourth album reach number two in the charts. “For all of you that haven’t bought the album, it’s your fault that it only got number two” she continues to chuckles from the crowd before more mandolin kicks off Under Stars cut Leap Of Faith.
Second single from the new album Automatic airs next, a rhythm being beaten out by Jimmy Sims on his upright bass, the Omeara audience quick to join in, clapping along. Sipping tea from a cup emblazoned with her name Macdonald tells of her discovery of rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle myths and her brushes with drinking excesses not mixing well with gigging, going on in a tongue-in-cheek way: “I discovered very early on the benefit of hot tea between songs”.
“The name of the show is: ‘Amy Macdonald, licence to talk shite’” she says to laughs before kicking off delicate Life In A Beautiful Light single 4th Of July which leads neatly into equally delicate latest single Down By The Water.
“This is great, I feel like we’re all just friends having a chat with each other” Macdonald says, engaging in further dry banter with her audience before she performs a solo rendition of new album cut Prepare To Fall, dedicating the number to her mother: “My mum is the most pessimistic person in the world”. The main set is rounded out with biggest hit This Is The Life, the crowd energised and singing along with the fast-paced tune, before Macdonald and her motley crew disappear briefly and return to stage for a short encore featuring a rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing In The Dark and which is rounded out with first single Poison Prince.
Despite the fact that she has now sold a massive 12 million records sold globally, simply incredible for a 30-year-old solo folkster from East Dunbartonshire, it’s easy to see why Macdonald’s tours are so popular and large shows sell out. Her fantastic music is given a new dimension when performed live, away from any layers of record production, and Amy herself is so charming with her often self-deprecating and very dry wit ensuring that the live experience is one fans will always return to enjoy over and over, cup of hot tea in hand and all.
Macdonald plays The Ferry in Glasgow and the Moseley Folk Festival later this week before kicking off her UK acoustic tour in earnest on 29th October at Northampton’s Royal & Derngate Theatre, stopping at St John at Hackney in London on 8th November and winding up with two nights at Glasgow’s famous Barrowlands Ballroom on the 15th & 16th of December.
Live review and photos of Amy Macdonald @ Omeara by Kalpesh Patel on 29th August 2017.
Kalpesh has more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate