First Night: Sandi Thom, Carling Academy, Islington, London

A smooth transition from webcam to concert hall: read the review then watch the gig online

Go to
to see the full gig online.

"I've got my Bob Dylan doo-dah on. But mine's a bit shit though," claims the petite and exceptionally long-haired Sandi Thom about her harmonica.

The Scottish chanteuse is flanked by her unkempt band members, the guitarist Marcus Bonsanti and the drummer Craig Connet, in this clammy venue. You'd think Thom could have doled out some of her record company advance to buy some drums for Connet, who was thumping on a cardboard box.

Thom is another in an increasingly long line of internet sensations. This week the top-selling single "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley is the first single ever to get to number one on downloads alone, and Thom plays it tonight with considerable aplomb.

Earlier this year the internet was responsible for the success of the Artic Monkeys and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Now surfers have "chosen" the embryonic Thom. A 24-year-old singer-songwriter from Banff, a small fishing village on the coast of north-east Scotland.

Thom has soared like some mythological creature from cyberspace.

After her decrepit car broke down between gigs too many times, the nu-folk singer decided to DIY-it from Tooting. She broadcast her musical musings via a £60 web cam in her south London flat and staged a three-week tour from her basement. After two weeks she had 70,000 webviewers and within a month RCA/Sony singed her up for a five-album deal worth £1m. And it looks like a lot of the furniture from the basement is on stage tonight.

Before tonight as Natalie Imbruglia once wailed, "I'm torn", on record Thom clearly has more talent in her tiny toenails than an entire Neighbours cast. However, her music has a hint of shopping mall. Her songs could grace any upmarket boutique in any global shopping precinct. Music to buy chinos to.

Nevertheless, Thom has been compared with a plethora of hoary and hairy rock giants, including Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Carole King, Jeff Buckley and Stevie Wonder (she plays a wonderful version of "In The City Tonight").

In truth she has more in common with Alanis Morissette (angst on " Superman", which she is unable to play tonight because of a defunct keyboard). Eddie Reader (sprightliness on "Little Remedy"), Kirstie McCall (lyrics on "What If I'm Right") and, wait for it, Joni Mitchell (her voice). Every new young female songwriter from 1970 onwards has been compared to Joni, but most of them are not fit to scrub her plectrum. Thom, however, on tonight's performance has the potential.

Her debut album, Smile ... It Confuses People, is an upbeat, uncomplicated hybrid of folk and soul and Thom expresses this album perfectly tonight.

Her observations in her lyrics are winsome and optimistic rather than sharp and edgy - like, say, the perpetually cross Martha Wainwright. The majority of her songs are replete with a sway of romantic imagery - stardust, digging for gold, "bumblebees grazing knees" and skimming stones.

Confusingly, her first single release is the daftly titled "I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker (with flowers in my hair)", which bemoans the onset of digital technology ("when music really matters and radio was king ... and computers were still scary and we didn't know everything"). Which is ironic given that the internet gave her her big break.

It's a clumsy song which romanticises 1969 and 1977, two years that have about as much in common as Sir Alan Sugar and the Sugarplum Fairy. Nevertheless, Thom claims it has reached number one on Apple's iTunes and the song received a rapturous applause from her audience.

The song is undeniably upbeat and devilishly catchy, it's also quirky as only percussion accompanies her wonderful voice.

Ultimately, it's a thoroughly pleasant and engaging 45 minutes from an unformed but precocious talent. It's probably prudent to keep watching this web space.

Go to to see the full gig online.

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


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