First Night: Amy MacDonald, Dingwalls, London

Celtic songstress shows wisdom beyond her years
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The Independent Culture

At just 20, the impassioned Glaswegian singer-songwriter Amy Macdonald is helping to make this the age of the female pop prodigy. MySpace has a lot to do with it, but there is a timeless quality to Macdonald's music that suggests it would have flourished whenever it came along, and comparisons with such in-your-face, avowedly spirit-of-2007 performers as Lily Allen and Kate Nash are not really appropriate.

At just 20, the impassioned Glaswegian singer-songwriter Amy Macdonald is helping to make this the age of the female pop prodigy. MySpace has a lot to do with it, of course, but there is a timeless quality to Macdonald’s music that suggests it would have flourished whenever it came along, and comparisons with such in-your-face, avowedly spirit-of-2007 performers as Lily Allen and Kate Nash are not really appropriate.

Macdonald, self-taught on the guitar from the age of 12, had built up quite a following in her native city before she burst on the wider scene earlier this year with a debut album, This is The Life, that reached No.2 in the charts and spent five weeks in the top 10. Her voice was special - gutsy and assured - and the added combination of sweeping instrumental panoramas and melodic depth lodged her songs firmly in the heart and mind. Her lyrics, which deal a lot with memory, loss and the fickle lure of fame, tended to the earnest and naïve, but at their best suggested a wisdom beyond her years. The more you listened, the more Celtic the whole thing sounded, and it was no surprise last night when taped bagpipes heralded her arrival on stage.

What Macdonald does share with Allen is some vigorous, occasionally intrusive production, and the question before this gig - her biggest in London to date - was whether in a live setting she could achieve the same degree of richness and detail that marks her studio work, or would even want to.

With just two guitarists and a drummer for support, Macdonald sacrificed a measure of finesse, but made up for it with a driving energy that ensured an ebullient start to the evening with the title track from her album, a song that is really about nothing more than the joy of being alive.

Admitting to a nervousness that she said she wouldn’t experience in Glasgow, Macdonald never quite seemed to relax into proceedings, which were all over after an hour and just 12 songs, some of which were just a bit too similar.

Still, she can be very proud of “Mr Rock & Roll”, her soaringly tuneful first single and a telling take on pop industry life. Her second single, “LA”, inspired by the actor Jake Gyllenhaal, is out on Monday.

Macdonald shares a record label - Vertigo - with The Killers, who she acknowledged with a fine version of “Mr Brightside” before moving on to the affecting “Road to Home”. In her country mode, heard to best affect on her patriotic lament, “Caledonia”, Macdonald’s vocal style is a real throwback, bringing to mind the bleak intensity of Buffy Saint-Marie singing “Soldier Blue”.

Macdonald’s sense of history is striking in one so young. Indeed, her apparent wish to have been part of an earlier generation is poignant for those of us who were. It came through most powerfully when she chose for the second of her two encore numbers her tribute to a cherished Glasgow venue, “Barrowland Ballroom”. “And I wish that I saw Bowie, playing on that stage,” she sang. “I wish that I saw something that made me come of age.” There might be those not yet born who will wish they’d seen Amy Macdonald in her youthful pomp.

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