Joanna Newsom & Roy Harper – Palace Theatre, Manchester – 19th September 2010

Posted on September 20, 2010


written for High Voltage

The Palace Theatre opened up its well-worn doors for an evening of top-class folk music tonight, as Roy Harper and Joanna Newsom combined to create a wonderfully inspiring evening. When a legend of music and a true modern-day great share the same bill it usually makes for a terrific spectacle, and tonight was no exception, as two superb musicians displayed their multitude of talents to a dumbfounded audience.

The inclusion of Harper was a surprise to many and his performance set the tone for the evening. His incredible guitar skills were instantly apparent, with phenomenal finger-picking and sweet harmonics his speciality. With compositions that are extraordinarily intricate, they provide a thrilling back-drop to his social and political narratives. Dramatic song after dramatic song had the audience captivated and offered a lucid reminder of the Rusholme-born singer’s talents. His highly successful musical career has seen him influence many great artists, such as Kate Bush, Pete Townshend and Led Zeppelin – the latter having written a song called ‘Hats Off to (Roy) Harper’ – and he proved tonight that he is deserving of such high-praise.  Harper’s set whetted the palate perfectly before he made way for the much-anticipated main event.

Joanna Newsom entered the stage to a rapturous reception and it soon became clear why she is so adored by her followers. A supremely talented singer and multi-instrumentalist hailing from California, Newsom possesses an incredible and extremely unusual voice. Capable of hitting notes and incorporating vocal techniques other singers would give anything to be able to match; she can also write truly amazing folk songs. Tonight she flitted between piano and harp with graceful ease, performing a selection of beautifully complex songs that delighted her audience. Her band are also exceptionally gifted, providing subtle instrumentation that rises and falls in theatrical fashion, always complementing the singing magnificently. Percussionist Neal Morgan is particularly impressive. Never restricted to a standard beat, he prefers to write drum arrangements that are completely wrapped around Newsom’s lyrics and it as an approach that works perfectly. The rest of the band are also adroit musicians, incorporating electric guitar, banjo, recorder, violin, trombone and tambura to great effect. The way in which the music has been pieced together is breathtaking, with each song as gripping as the last.

Newsom performed tracks spanning her career, with sublime versions of ‘Bridges and Balloons’, ‘Cosmia’ and ‘Easy’ giving the audience a great cross-section of her work to date. It is difficult to quantify the talent she possesses but her inimitable vocal is just one facet of her ability. She plays her instruments with aplomb and writes expert compositions that are remarkably powerful. Gigs of this calibre remain etched in the mind and it will be a while before anyone in the audience forgets tonight’s magnificent performance from a legend in the making.

words by Rob Pollard

photography by Sam Ellis


Posted in: Music