Jessie Buckley & Bernard Butler
Whitley Bay Playhouse.
25th August 2022
I don’t remember exactly when it was, but by chance, I first heard Jessie Buckley and Bernard Butler being interviewed on the radio.
Throughout, tracks from their soon-to-be-released collaborative album ‘For All Our Days that Tear the Heart’ had been played.
I followed that up with a couple of Youtube videos and subsequently bought the album.
Then, when I saw they were playing a show at Whitley Bay Playhouse, I thought ‘I’m in’ and I’m glad I did.
Despite what I now know of her substantial acting career, on first hearing that interview, I’d never heard of Jessie Buckley and all I knew about Butler was that he had been in Suede; a ‘Britpop’ band I had paid scant attention to.
Over the preceding weeks, I listened to ‘For All Our Days that Tear the Heart’ a lot, and it is excellent and on the day of the gig was short-listed for the 2022 Mercury Music Prize.
Thanks to Wikipedia I discovered that Buckley has quite a backstory. Notably, her mother is a vocal coach….I decided I didn’t want to know much more so I skimmed the page and left it at that.
I just wanted to take the songs at face value, go to the gig and see the music I had [accidentally] discovered brought to life.
I was not disappointed, from the off when Buckley and her two backing singers expertly vocalised the intro to the album I knew this was going to be good, and it was, it was more than good, in fact it was one of those gigs that leaves you thinking you have witnessed something very special indeed.
However, it would be wrong to single out Jessie Buckley, clearly, she’s the star of this show, but in reality, she is the lead singer in a superb band, featuring Butler on guitar/harmonium, two backing vocalists, a violinist, a drummer/percussionist and a double-bass player.
The evening’s most engaging songs start sparse, then gather intensity to reach an orchestral crescendo, as on the album’s opening song The Eagle and the Dove and on For All The Days – the album’s title track. They worked the up-tempo songs brilliantly too, as on the second song of the night – Babylon Days after which (to the approval of the sold-out Playhouse) Jessie tells us how much she has enjoyed being in Whitley Bay
‘I had an ice cream, walked on the beach and I’m going for fish n’ chips afterwards’.
It was personable stuff and it’s clear this woman knows exactly what she’s doing, she has the audience in the palm of her hand; a true professional, as evidenced when during Seven Red Rose Tattoos when she doesn’t allow some ear-piercing feedback to derail her, she takes it in her stride and the awkward moment passes without fuss.
It’s a great song, close your eyes and you could be in a smokey jazz club circa 1940.
The album version features some beautiful Miles Davis-Esque trumpet.
That, and the piano part are missing tonight although It’s hardly noticeable at the time; such is the sound the seven-piece conjures up.
‘I’m on a quest to find love again’ she sings and you believe it, such is the passion imbued in her exquisite vocal.
Bernard Butler, would appear to be the musical director of the project and seems content to gently strum the guitar and be the quiet guy while Buckley joshes with the audience. I would have liked to hear a bit more of his guitar but that’s just personal preference I guess.
It’s all about that voice and at one point, mid-song a guy lets out what can only be described as a howl – of appreciation, of pain – maybe he had a cramp – who knows?
Again, undaunted, she holds the note, smiles and then laughs at the end of the song.
On stage, she’s very physically expressive and between songs, talks with her hands.
‘I was absolutely shitten’ myself’ she informs us in her lilting Irish accent when she speaks of her writing collaboration with Butler and then dedicates ‘I Cried Your Tears’ to her vocal coach, sorry; her Mother and all women.
It’s genre defying music, it drifts in an out of Jazz, Blues, Latin and Folk but it all comes together in its complexity to give a richness to the songs that make this, not only a great album but an amazing live-music experience too.
On the more rocky ‘We’ve Run The Distance’ Buckley’s vocal gymnastics puts me in mind of Sam Brown, and that’s very much a compliment – it’s one highlight of many, another was Catch The Dust which she sings sitting cross-legged at the edge of the stage. Like everyone present, I was awestruck and when they leave the stage the audience rise to their feet as one.
The band return and perform a cover of Dylan’s Just Like A Woman reimagined as a jazz standard before the evening’s final song, Catch The Dust, delivered by Buckley accompanied only by a loop of Butler’s guitar.
Perched on the edge of the stage, along with the band, she sings directly to a pregnant woman in the front row.
It felt slightly contrived but nonetheless, a very tender live music experience.
Funnily enough though as they left the stage, Jessie’s last words were ‘And thanks to Michael, our bus driver’, which kind of summed the evening up.
Fun, as well as uplifting and intensely emotional.
Review by the one and only Folkin’ Magpie Graham!