Nadine ShahHarvest Sun @ Leaf 1/2/18
The last time Liverpool hosted NADINE SHAH, she stole the ramshackle show that was John Cale’s Velvet Underground Revisited at Clarence Dock. Her interpretation of Femme Fatale that night leapt out from the rest, a strange and otherworldly moment when the sound took on a sudden unexpected clarity and the wind piped down so we all could hear. Divine intervention? Who knows.
Shah’s gig at Leaf some eight months later is sold-out, and such is her popularity that the BBC are here too, making a radio documentary about her status as a political songwriter. Her most recent album, Holiday Destination, has themes around immigration and class, the latter a topic carrying extra currency right now, and Shah is knowledgeable and spirited about both themes.
Tonight we’re treated – and it is a bloody treat too – to songs from Holiday Destination: Place Like This, Jolly Sailor – about her local pub back home in the North East, where her immigrant parents have always been welcome – and Yes Men standing out as particular highlights. That voice of hers is warm and engaging on record, but tonight it takes on an extra richness and darkness, and her band throw up flashes of Scott Walker’s brilliant and unsettling Climate Of Hunter, adding to my own personal thrill. Shah, this expressive, bold woman, conjures and claws at the air as she sings, and pulls at both the ear and the eye.
She talks, storytelling, explaining her songs, why she wrote the album, and pays tribute to murdered Labour MP Jo Cox, again with her trademark passion. She’s an admirer of Billy Bragg and his live delivery, I’m thinking. The two artists are miles away musically, but as Shah speaks between songs with great emotion – there’s no bullshit here – I can’t help but be reminded of a gig Bragg delivered at the old/new Picket, now District, when the British National Party were in bloom, instructing us all to spread the word that racism and injustice are really bad things. Everyone cheered noisily, and then went home, and along came UKIP.
The crowd tonight agree with everything Shah says and sings about, and when they file out, they nod heads in approval. Yet when I talk to the radio documentary people afterwards they say vox pops from the audience – of overwhelmingly white men comfortable and content with their lot – have been predictable, safe within the boundaries, questions left unstretched and untested. Nadine Shah knows she’s preaching to the converted at Leaf, and at most of her shows. We’re of like minds in this room, both those onstage and off it. Still, she insists that the messages need saying anyway, and often, until things change. And she’s right.