Tift Merritt & Simpleswan at Jumping Hot Club, the Cluny II (2010)

Tift Merritt and Simpleswan
Jumping Hot Club Cluny II,
12th October 2010

I’d only just sat down when a tall gangly lad with a trendy beard took to the small stage and nervously picked up a guitar. He fiddled with it as the house lights went down but didn’t speak or play a note. Then the side door suddenly swung open and a rather attractive young lady barged through carrying two pints and a spare bottle of beer. She immediately joined the relieved guitarist and apologised for her lateness, telling us, “I was at the bar and neebody telt us that ah wes due on stage!” A local lady I deduced.
Thirty minutes later I would have forgiven her for invading Iraq.
Chris and Aisha who are Simpleswan delivered the sweetest set of whimsical pop-folk songs that I’ve ever heard. He plays guitar and sings like a very young John Martyn while tapping out rhythms with his foot on a baby bass drum while she harmonises and takes the occasional lead (which I’d like to have heard more of) while also playing an assortment of £20 Casio keyboards that “sound mint.” Each and every song sounded like I’d known it all of my life and the simple structures and melodies are an antidote to the puerile tosh that X-Factor and the like poison our airwaves with. Think early Prefab Sprout or Everything But the Girl and you will be in the right territory for who and what Simpleswan sound like.
The 100 strong audience was still chattering about them when Graham Anderson introduced the diminutive Ms Merritt and her big friendly bassist Jay Brown.
I’m still not 100% aux fait with the latest album (SEE YOU ON THE MOON) so didn’t recognise the opening song or a few others during the night, for which I can only apologise. As with the album itself some songs worked better than others but generally they were all a bit slower than I expect from a Tift Merritt concert; but it was only a taster for her tour later this month with Mary Chapin-Carpenter and I presume she was trying out the new songs on a friendly audience to decide what will finally make the cut.
Only a handful of older songs made it onto the setlist with a very powerful Ain’t Looking Closely from Tift on the piano being rapturously received by the faithful. Later Tift managed to make the same piano sound like a heart beating on a spectacularly delicate Another Country.
I did recognise The Things That Everybody Does and All The Reasons we Don’t Have to Fight from SEE YOU ON THE MOON with the latter producing some simple but beautiful harmonies from Tift and Jay.
The banter in-between the songs was very relaxed as they fooled around and laughed and drank beer; prompting Tift to tease Jay about how ‘wasted’ he’d been the previous evening. He reminded her that she had drunk just as much as him!
Even during an intimate gig like this one I love the way Tift Merritt postures like a Rawk Star and thrashes so hard at her guitar strings you can see the veneer wearing away above and below the fret board. But this never over powers the songs; just adding the right amount of passion and power.
As the end of the night grew ever closer we were treated to fantastic new versions of Make me Happy and Virginia and then they were gone……only for Tift and her sidekick to return for two more songs. Danny’s Song which they turned into a beautiful duet with Tift gently picking at her guitar and the finale a lament on the piano.
Then the lights came on and Tift was swamped by fans and well wishers as she came off stage.