Long live the Comedown Queen

DOT ALLISON IMPROV THEATRE LONDON

DOT ALLISON had stardom in her grasp once before, when her band One Dove were made Andy Weatherall's first post-Screamadelica project. But pressures from inside and out tore the band apart. And then, poised for a new start, Allison narrowly escaped death in a car crash. She couldn't walk for four months. Her senses were morphine-muffled.

And so, for her first solo show, she's left nothing to chance. The female string section march into position as if they're in a recital. The keyboardist closes her eyes in anticipation. The guitarists are sharply dressed in clubbers' daywear. And Dot Allison, blonde-haired and in a glittering black top, takes centre stage. Everyone is expectant. The crowd gives a cheer. And her second chance begins.

Her songs detail dreamy obsession; lovers clinging and escaping. Her voice is sugary, like Sarah Cracknell's. Nerves stop her smiling, or making more than a very occasional quip but what really makes an impression is the booming depth to the sound she and her band produce, the thud of drums struck at the same time as bells and cymbals and strings, with her at the intimate centre. She gives a little jig as it all comes together.

There are glitches. An acoustic guitar won't plug into the sound system, and she sings several songs with an earpiece swinging free. But she isn't phased. Maybe it's because, like Robbie Williams, this is in her blood (mother and aunt are musicians). It's quickly apparent that this is a polished, more-than-promising debut.

Allison shares with labelmate Beth Orton the tag of Comedown Queen, a hangover from her use of Screamadelica's narcotic dub. But this new work has different intentions. Perhaps it's the result of slowly surfacing from her own post-crash anaesthetic haze, but the songs she plays tonight come up as if from deep sleep. "Message Personnel" begins with her singing and moving robotically, chanting a changeless, careless mantra. It takes the music's slow surge to bring her to life, until guitars are lifting the song to a swirling climax, and Dot is dancing from the hip, pointing at the crowd like Diana Ross dug out of the deep freeze. The music has caused disciplined liberation. Allison cracks a smile.

All that's left is the new single, "Mo' Pop". For this song of unwilling love, Allison mumbles at first, as if the lyrics are in a strange tongue. She's just waiting for the chorus. As the spotlight falls on her alone, Allison sings it, la la las made into an affirmation. Everyone hits their guitars together, the string section slides between them, and not a note is out of place. Then they're gone. It lasted 30 minutes. It's pop at its most graceful; professional perfection.

Nick Hasted

`Mo' Pop' (Heavenly) will be released this week

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