It’s been quite some time since our paths have crossed, but Scout Niblett, winner of our first ever single of the year way back in 2003, has always maintained a special place in our hearts and we entered a sold out Victoria with a skip in our step.
First though another encounter weighted with history as The Legend!, musical alter-ego of renowned music journalist Everett True, ambles onto the stage with a mobile phone and a small pile of books. True’s writing, first with the weekly music papers in my formative years and later through the excellent Careless Talk Costs Lives and Plan B, was an early influence on my taking up music writing, and tonight’s performance, featuring readings from his self-published book ‘The Electric Storm’ set to a brooding ambient backing track and interspersed with dark folk-inflected vocal interludes, is a reminder of what makes his journalism so compelling. Tales range from a stream of consciousness retelling of the day Kurt Cobain died to drawn-out explanations of just why Chris Martin and Bono are shit. They are at times moving, insightful, vitriolic, disorientating and hilarious, often all at once.
Entering with the least fanfare possible and looking as if she’s arrived directly from a month-long backpacking trip, Scout Niblett dumps her rucksack at the side of the stage, peels off her heavy coat and plugs in her guitar. As the first note of ‘Where Are You?’ from 2005’s Kidnapped By Neptune album rings out, the crowded room falls instantly silent and we stay this way pretty much throughout a set that wanders through her 17 year discography, adding tracks from her soon to be released seventh album. The magic is broken only momentarily by an overzealous hand-dryer in the gents that spreads a gentle titter through the audience before we’re sucked back in to the otherworldly bubble which Scout has cast over the room.
And there is magic in these songs, sparse and bare-boned as they are: a gently finger-strummed guitar and a heartrending vocal that pierces the hard outer shell of indifference that London crowds are so often attributed and melts us all from within. These are songs full of space, with no wasted motion; all substance and no surface and we hang on every word, every string bend, every sustained note as it gently fades into the darkness before being jolted back to life with a sudden growl of distortion. These are songs that flit bird-like between deep mournfulness and absolute joy, perhaps expressed best when Scout ditches the guitar and seats herself behind the drumkit to crash out an exuberant mash up which places the saccharine 80s sentiment of ‘We Are The World’ slap band in the middle of her own treatise on the human condition ‘Your Beat Kicks Back Like Death’.
They are songs that allow us to fill the gaps with memories and self-exploration. They are all the blues records that I used to complain about my dad playing in the living room, but that somehow seeped into my subconscious and waited for their moment. They are the first kisses, the break ups, the first time I flew in an aeroplane and saw how small and huge and wonderful and mundane the world below me was. Emptying a packet of popping candy into my seven year old mouth and being both thrilled and terrified by the sensation on my tongue. The day I left home to create my own world and all the times I’ve been back to visit and snuck back into the safe cocoon of childhood routines. The lollipop given after a childhood trip to the dentist that still had a tang of mouthwash beneath the sweetness. They are the death of my grandparents and the first time I met the children of my friends and relatives. They are a warm hug and a proper cup of tea after a bad day at the office.
And then it’s over, and we have to leave the bubble and return to reality; tired, happy and with just a tiny bit more appreciation for life.
Review by Paul Maps