(Barbican, 24th February, Review by Rob Edgar)
A Tanita Tikaram concert is something of a rarity, and with confirmation via Twitter of a viral infection, tensions had been high in the run-up to Friday’s concert as to whether it would in fact go ahead. The relief, coupled with the fact that this was a one-off gig, meant the excitement in the hall was palpable. I overheard a couple on the way in who had come all the way from California just for this.
Tikaram has amassed an intriguing combination of musicians: towards the beginning of the set - a mixture of older classics like Twist in My Sobriety and songs from her newest release Closer to the People - we could have been listening to something from ECM’s New Series, such was the ethereal, reedy texture from accordionist Bartosz Glowacki, and saxophonist Martin Winning underpinning Tikaram’s famously husky voice.
Any expectations that Tikaram’s recent wanderings into a jazzier idiom would colour her performance of her back-catalogue proved unfounded. World Outside Your Window, from her debut album sounded much the same as it did on its release, but upped the energy levels, and was the first tune to feature the full band. The musicians have clearly been given some space to breathe and add their personal stamp however. Valentine Heart (“It’s about love, but a teenage idea of love” -Tikaram), was slightly schmaltzy and naïve, but guitarist Bryan Day - who moved to the piano - provided some biting bitonal harmonies over Tanita’s guitar. Drummer Alessandro Cinelli who is a recent addition proved himself an excellent timekeeper but with just a hint of swing to add some extra spice to Dust on My Shoes, and Winning was able to showcase some versatile sax playing on Food On my Table.
The highlight was probably painter James Mayhew who joined the band for Cathedral Song and Glass Love Train, painting pictures in real time along with the music. Mayhew seemed to follow the rhythm with his brush strokes and perfectly mirrored the music’s growing intensity on the canvas to the point where a single tear was added to the depiction of an angel at the last chord of Cathedral Song on the words “take my life”.
The paintings were later auctioned off for one of Ian Shaw’s beneficiaries, Side by Side with Refugees. Shaw joined Tikaram towards the end of the set and was typically brilliant, but a little low in the mix and - unusually for him - couldn’t quite cut through.
In fact, if I had to offer a criticism it would be that the music perhaps wasn’t suited to a venue the size of the Barbican, and would have been much more at home in a smaller venue. No one on stage seemed to be able to fully relax into the music until the first encoreI Think of You although considering the two standing ovations they received, nobody else seemed to mind.