Whilst across town Auntie Madge was limbering up in Hyde Park, Hackney popstrel Paloma Faith last night closed Somerset House’s annual summer series.
The elegant courtyard was packed, but a mostly mature crowd’s restrained sense of expectation was twinned with the brow-beaten exhaustion of a pre-booked Tuesday night out. Support act Seye (‘pronounced CHER!’ he bellowed good-humouredly, ‘EYES BACKWARDS!’) did his best to warm things up, although somebody hadn’t tinkered with the sound levels and the set was over-bearingly loud in parts.
Paloma came on pretty late for a headline, 945pm. Perhaps she was waiting to see what would happen to the drizzle that prompted not only a sea of umbrellas to shoot up, but the theatrical application of rustling souwesters and waterproofs. It’s only a spot of rain, people!
So, yes, Paloma emerged resplendent in ankle-length ballgown; and even at the back, our visibility was good. Her captivating voice, at times spookily Winehouse-esque, revisited highlights from the hit first album – ‘Do You Want The Truth’, ‘Broken Doll,’ ‘Stone Cold Sober’ and ‘Smoke & Mirrors’, her three backing singers harmonizing cutely alongside. One mid-set standout was ‘Just Be,’ a rather unexpected paean to the quiet stoicism that accompanies longterm relationships. A magical moment, in fact.
As usual, Faith’s banter amused as much as the songs. She effortlessly won the audience over with a combination of witty self-help and the faint air of surreality or rebellion: ‘You are all free!’ she exclaimed at one point; ‘You look like a beautiful fish tank,’ at another. And our favourite: ‘Do you ever think, we must go to that expensive restaurant ‘cos one day we’ll go there normally?’
But methinks the capital’s partygoers were all throwing shapes over in W1, because the folk here were Very Polite Indeed: largely static, but swaying lightly during classics like ‘New York’. Or perhaps it was the dark threat of rain, or fatigue from half hour bar queues? (Much quicker, we soon discovered, to flag down a roaming Carling dispenser blokey. But floodlit 18th century Somerset House evokes a grandeur at odds with plastic bottles of the world’s most flavourless lager, doesn’t it?)
There was one incendiary Georgio Moroder-inspired workout, ‘Cellulite’, towards the end that, Faith told us, ‘Nellee’ (Hooper, producer) thought was too ‘jolly’ for new album ‘Fall To Grace’. It’s a 10 minute multi-layered wobbly gem about everyone’s fat bits. Can we get a copy please?
‘Applause is a currency here,’ was Faith’s closing quip. ‘You can buy more songs with a clap.’ That nailed it, of course, and finally the crowd screamed and whistled, and she returned for the celebratory melancholia of recent smash hit ‘Picking Up The Pieces’.
Words & insets: Stephen Emms