Liz Green, Bush Hall, London


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The Independent Culture

“It’s going to be a whole lotta of fun tonight,” Liz Green sings, in her jazz-coated tones, on the perky 'Midnight Blues'. That’s about as jaunty as the 28-year-old’s music gets. She even warns us, jokily (and Green’s very droll, like a blend of Victoria Wood, Linda Smith and Beautiful South’s Paul Heaton), that “I’m going to try and depress you now,” before the exquisite lament 'Hey Joe', adding “it’s a sad song about my imaginary friend’s less than impressive love life.” 

The self-deprecating, retro-folk singer is a rare, exotic talent, who routinely sings about death. Her vocals sound like a heady mix of Nina Simone, Portishead’s Beth Gibbons and Karen Dalton and the subjects of her dark materials include obsessive funeral-goers ('Luis'), rag and bone men ('Rag and Bone') and old people’s homes ('The Quiet'). In fact, two songs into her imaginative set she delivers a sumptuous rendition of Pulp’s “Help the Aged”, and Green’s chief sympathies appear to be with the vulnerable, the ignored and the forlorn. The pained singer’s distinctive fingerpicking guitar style is backed up tonight by an enthusiastic and sympathetic band on sax, trombone, drums and double bass.

Five years after triumphing in Glastonbury festival’s emerging talent competition and four years after releasing the sensational single 'Bad Medicine', the Wirral chanteuse finally released her debut album, O, Devotion!, late last year and it’s a sometimes eerie, but always humane gem. At points, this gritty record wouldn’t feel out of place sound-tracking Edward Woodward’s desperate, final screams in The Wicker Man, but then it also reeks of a decadent nightclub in 1920s Weimar Germany. Thankfully, Green punctures the grittier material with lots of humour tonight – “Yeah, this one’s about death, too – and no little cabaret, the greatest example being the moment when she adopts “a secret transformation”, sporting a grey woolly bird’s face on her head before an a cappella rendition of 'Who Killed Poor Robin?'. It’s extremely funny, but a tad creepy, too.

There are plenty of highlights tonight, most notably 'Bad Medicine', where she innovatively adds her own mouth trumpet, 'Displacement Song' (a war track, inspired by Primo Levi) and the powerful, mordant 'Gallows'. Nevertheless, Green still gently castigates herself throughout – for starting a song in the wrong key, for “just coming out with a big splurge” of words – and she expresses shock that Bush Hall is full. She shouldn’t be. If anything, this intimate venue, although suited to Green’s chatty, down-to-earth performance style, is way too small for a talent this big. Liz Green, you’re terrific.