Emily Portman

St. Ann's Church, Newcastle

11 March 2010

I'll be honest right from the start: I didn't go to see Emily Portman tonight. I heard her sing 18 months ago and while she was obviously talented, I didn't hear anything that would make me go out of my way to hear her again. So I went to tonight's gig purely because Rachel Newton is in her band, and I would go and see Rachel Newton anywhere.

And I'm extremely glad I did, because Emily Portman is amazing. I don't know what I was thinking 18 months ago, because she's a singer I will go and see again — as often as possible.

What makes Emily stand out is the strength of her songs. Her debut album is being launched tonight, and she played in its entirety as far as I can work out, and every song is exceptional. She writes them all herself but they sound like they're hundreds of years old, dripping with atmosphere and fairy-tale imagery.

The band supplies very sparse instrumentation to the songs (the always phenomenal Rachel Newton on harp, Lucy Farrell on Viola, and Emily on concertina, though rarely all playing at the same time, and some songs unaccompanied) but it's the vocal harmony of Emily, Lucy and Rachel that bring the songs to life — maybe the most outstanding live harmonies I have ever heard.

So... best set of songs I've ever heard, and Emily Portman is the best new songwriter I've heard for... well, years and years. If her album doesn't become my favourite disc of the year, I don't know what will.

Oh, and, St. Ann's Church: fantastic venue for this kind of gig.

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