The Shee

The Sage, Gateshead

11 April 2017

The concert is in the middle hall of The Sage, which doesn't look like it should be a great place for a concert—it's just a big square box, with rows of temporary seats on a flat floor, and feels a bit like being at a gig in a school gym (there are even blue drapes hung on the walls to hide the monkey bars). But of course the sound is absolutely perfect, because it's The Sage and everything here always sounds perfect. It's the best concert venue I've ever been in. Also, there's an ambitious and dramatic light show, which The Shee don't normally bother with, and it's very cool.

The night got off to a good start with the support band Balter, a local group of students who described themselves as a "smaller, crapper version of The Shee". Well there's only four of them, so "smaller" is right, but I don't think they have anything to worry about in terms of quality, they're all excellent musicians (even if a couple of them looked a bit nervous) with great songs, and they delivered an excellent half-hour set that actually did have a lot in common with what The Shee do.

After a short interval, The Shee came on with only five members, which is a bit worrying. We later learn that Olivia Ross is poorly in hospital, which is even more worrying.

But even with a key member missing, the music is unaffected. Yes, if you've seen them before you'll notice differences. I missed the fiddle duets, the extra layer of harmonies, and of course the songs Olivia usually sings. But they are "differences", not "deficiencies", as the sound of the band is still as full and rich as ever. I'll bet the people who don't know their music didn't realise anything was missing. Even knowing their music pretty well (this is the 12th time I've seen them live), I couldn't tell you how they rearranged it to cover for Olivia, but somehow they did. I don't know if everybody played a little bit extra, or if Shona Mooney played twice as much as usual (it's entirely possible; she is that good) but somehow they just made it work. It's remarkable. Imagine a rock band going on without a guitar player! But The Shee have (normally) six lead instruments, and I guess that if you lose one you just move the lead to someone else.

There must have been some songs they couldn't do, because the set was slightly different from last year's set. Obviously they had to drop Olivia's songs, but Rachel Newton and Laura-Beth Salter probably got an extra song each to fill the gaps, and I'll never complain about that (and on at least one song Lillias Kinsman-Blake sang the third vocal part, which is new). And they dropped a couple more tunes off the new album, maybe because they couldn't be made to work with just five instruments/two voices, and brought in some more older tunes to replace them.

The other worry of the evening was Amy Thatcher sitting down to play rather than standing, which may sound a bit of a trivial thing to mention but it was curious because I've never seen her do that before. It wasn't obvious why, because her accordion was in the way, but then she stood up at one point to introduce a song, and turned sideways, and it was immediately obvious. No attention was called to it and it wouldn't normally be in my review, except that it meant I spent the whole concert assuming there wouldn't be any clog dancing, for obvious reasons.

So despite circumstances, there was just about everything I would normally expect from a Shee concert, and everything sounded just about perfect.

And then, in the encore, there was (rather alarmingly!) clog dancing. Yay!

It couldn't be the best concert I've ever seen without clog dancing.