The reverential setting of a church in the back streets of Dalston was the sold-out London stop on Alela Diane’s three gig European tour, promoting her new album ‘Looking Glass’ (see our review). This was an ideal setting for her solo performance, with an excellent PA and very good lighting. The old-fashioned pews were a minor downside, but the discomfort was alleviated by the sale of alcoholic beverages from a temporary bar.
To settle us in she opened with ‘Dry Grass and Shadows’ from her 2009 album ‘To Be Still’ and then played eight of the eleven songs from the new album. Several of these are reflections on increasingly extreme weather experienced in the USA. She explained that ‘Paloma’ is a song initially inspired by a thunderstorm, but it developed a more ecologically pessimistic theme with lines like “I wouldn’t be taken aback if the sun gave up and never brought the day.” Particularly memorable was ‘Strawberry Moon’ which Diane said was about people we know “who have been lost to addiction.” It was going to be called ‘Looking Glass’ but she decided she didn’t want a song with the same name as the album.
For most of the set it was just Diane’s superb vocal accompanied by her accomplished guitar-playing or piano. Naturally the performance doesn’t have the depth of the recorded versions which are embellished with other instruments and guest players, although one song from her new album, ‘Of Love’, was enhanced by her very fine whistling on the instrumental part (it’s played by a string section on the album). To mark the halfway point in the set we were treated to a delightful version of the Fairport Convention song ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’. Diane is a big fan of Sandy Denny, and there is a tribute to her on a previous album in ‘Song for Sandy’.
As well as playing the support set, Lindsay Clark accompanied Diane on piano and backing vocals for several songs. The singer was delighted to have Lindsay with her. They were neighbours as young children and, as Diane told us, they “used to wait for the school bus together and sing in the same choir.” Songs included the memorable ‘Ether and Wood’ from her previous album ‘Cusp’ along with ‘Dream A River’ from the new album in which Diane references a visit to her childhood home. She told us an amusing story about how it had come up for sale 15 years after having been sold by her parents, and she was amazed to find that they had not changed the décor. She will be back in London at the Union Chapel on February 2nd where I’m hoping she will be supported by a full band.
Excellent support was provided by Lindsay Clark who has been touring the Netherlands and Germany as well as opening for Diane, performing songs from her new album ‘Carpe Noctem’. Her style has some similarities to Diane with a crystal-clear voice and accompanying herself on guitar and piano, but more dreamy and trippy.