Susanna Wolfe Band Album launch 06/10/2018

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The Susanna Wolfe Band played a secret gig at Eden Court on Sat 6th October for their album launch ‘The Devil Inside’. Straight off the bat holding a secret gig at Eden Court struck me as an unusual thing to do – why have a private event in such a public venue? – yet the One Touch Theatre for a night became a listening party for the band’s album with their friends and supporters.

I am completely new to Susanna’s music and understood that the idea with these reviews is to go and have the experience at face value and not to take too much of the artist’s past endeavours into account. But with this particular musician, I think the context and pathway that has got her to this point would have helped to make sense of what I was experiencing. There I was fresh to the scene and my role for the night was to lend a critical eye and ear, which began with the support act of Dylan Tierney a young singer-songwriter from Inverness.

Just a man with his guitar, playing blues-infused soulful tunes that are unfussy, honest and direct. A good solid recipe in my musical book. Vocally, Tierney was strong and engaging with hints of Ryan Adams, Jack White and Bob Dylan. Effective rhythmic guitar underlaid his poetic singing style and he held the stage well on his own. His strings weren’t always perfectly in tune but for the most part any discord added to the raw delivery of the music.

A mid-way cover of ‘Cecelia’ was just that, a reproduction of the Simon & Garfunkel original. Given Tierney’s natural musicality this rendition was a bit predictable and his own interpretation of the song would make much more impact. The cover led back to his own tunes, only serving to show how good his song-writing is and that his real strengths lie in singing his own songs in his own style. This lad has a maturity ahead of his years and I’ll look forward to seeing him again. Nice wan san.

The Susanna Wolfe Band then concluded the first half of the show with an ‘acoustic set’, a stripped-back version of a few of their songs. Unfortunately, the sound wasn’t great for this section with Susanna’s guitar unamplified for most of the opening track, the drummer seemed lost and the backing singer was barely audible. The group seemed anxious and badly in need of a sound-check… as first impressions go this wasn’t great. It was hard to gauge the audience response at an invite-only event because friends and family would be supportive no matter what. This is not the sort of gig you would normally get at the One Touch Theatre where performances are slick and perfected… Was I the only one confused by this set up?

We made it to the intermission and some chat with her friends helped me to get some of the motivation behind this gig. This still didn’t convert me to her musical style however, the jury was still out on that one… let the second half begin. The second set opened with a bang and the full power of the live band kicked in. Having a kit drummer made all the difference compared to the drum machine on their recently released album. The band were now visually co-ordinated dressed in black and red and appeared more like a unit all round. It was loud and bold and you could experience Wolfe’s passion and dedication to her music: here you find a woman pouring her life’s experiences into every song. The fully amplified sound suited the band best with the bassist in tow and it got some dancers up from their seats. The crowd were heckling Susanna affectionately and her slightly seedy banter between songs got a few laughs (or in my case cringes). Wolfe is clearly in her element as a frontwoman and I felt like I was witnessing someone living out their dream. Whether this dream is all her own or shared by her band-members is another matter however.

Musically, this sound has an old style and I found it hard to place. At times the melodies and song structures reminded me of Roy Orbison and Wolfe’s voice like Kate Bush or Patti Smith. Susanna’s vocal prowess is what holds the band’s sound together, the element that is captivating and it would have been nice to hear some variety in the set, with her singing/playing on her own for example. If I’m honest I found the musical style a bit old-fashioned and formulaic, this isn’t a sound I’m used to hearing and I wonder where this music fits today?

As you might have gathered I feel a bit conflicted about this gig. There were elements to admire and bits that were questionable. There is no denying that this was a passionate and heartfelt performance delivered from experienced musicians. It wasn’t flawless but as time went on I appreciated the endeavour and boldness of setting up a gig in this venue off their own backs. Over-riding the initial glitches this was powerful performance and I sense that Susanna Wolfe is a force of nature that will keep on growling against the odds. Perhaps above all it’s this that has filled the theatre with her supporters tonight.

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