Review: Songs of Innocence, South Bank Centre

Part of the Meltdown festival being curated by Patti Smith this year was an evening so perfect it was almost picked from my personal wishlist of people I’d love to see on one stage. The loose theme was William Blake’s Songs of Innocence though it was expanded in reality to include songs from and about childhood and even wider than that, protest songs. But essentially, it was just an excuse to see some seriously amazing female singers (and a couple of men) whom I loved for ages and I never thought I’d see on the same bill.

Tori Amos’ 4 songs were a personal highlight, getting to hear ‘Silent All These Years’ and ‘Winter’ from Little Earthquakes was amazing, plus ‘Pretty Good Year’ and ‘Mother Revolution’ added up to an emotionally wrenching and intense set. Sinéad O’Connor was much more low key than expected,  a gently-strummed guitar backing a murmured, even placid collection of numbers of which only ‘Scarlet Ribbons’ really made the impact I wanted from her. Beth Orton’s endearing goofiness made her brace of songs highly engaging, returning later to deliver ‘Dolphins’ exceptionally well, and Marianne Faithful commanded huge presence especially with a scorching version of ‘Working Class Hero’.

Eliza Carthy and Kristin Hersh counterpointed each other beautifully with folk songs from either side of the Atlantic; Smith’s own contributions rocked, including a sensational rendition of ‘Birdland’ off her seminal disc Horses; and we were blessed with readings from the gorgeously mellifluous voices of actresses Miranda Richardson and Tilda Swinton. Even a bizarre interlude from Yoko Ono somehow worked for me, though I was probably more excited just to have been able to see her live without having to go through a whole show’s worth of her unique brand of randomness.

I’d’ve probably left the boys out of it in the end, Billy Bragg and Tim Booth (lead singer of James) feeling a little superfluous in the grand scheme of things, but the joys of the evening were so many and varied that the once in a lifetime feeling never really left me from start to finish. Cracking stuff.

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