All of a sudden Nadine Shah has become a big deal. Since the release of “Stealing Cars” – the first single from her (just released) second album “Fast Food” – she hasn’t been off BBC6music : from a stunning session and chat with Lauren Laverne earlier this month; being “the voice” of the recent 6music festival on Tyneside; to seemingly endless radio plays of the aforementioned single and its follow up “Fool” – the Whitburn warrior has become pretty unavoidable. Of course, all of this hasn’t happened overnight. Her debut album “Love Your Dum and Mad” from 2013 was a critically acclaimed neo-Gothic masterpiece that has managed to lay the perfect foundations for this current assault. But everything about tonight feels like a big deal. It feels important. More than anything else it feels like this particular star is about to make a significant jump up the fame ladder.
Her support for the evening are RETRIEVER, fronted by (we later discover) Shah’s best friend Jackie. It’s a stunning opening to the evening and the perfect foil to the main event – all interpolesque guitars, post punk grit and grind and a vocal that manages to fabulously switch from glamour to clamour on a sixpence. It’s seductively radgey. This is a very good thing.
Finally the house lights go down and the epic grandiose of the Old Town Hall is opened up by a ribbon of eerie blue light shimmering from the stage. The PA belts out one of Shah’s own songs (a ballsy move, but utterly perfect under the circumstances) and the hundreds that are crammed into the hall slowly become more and more entranced by the repetitive refrain of “there was nothing else to do but fall in love.” It’s a fantastic prologue to the show and as her band strut onto the stage dressed head to toe in black (naturally) there’s a romantic sense of foreboding filling the air. It’s gothic drama but not in the sense of bloodsuckers and fangs – this is the prelude to potentially tragic romance. In truth I’m half expecting Heathcliff’s long dead Cathy to wander onstage. Nadine finally arrives, wine in hand, leather clad and looking cool and confident. In complete contrast to the noisy shadows in the background she’s beautifully lit, slinging on her guitar and coming across as the badass biker chanteuse she was always meant to be, towering above her audience and in absolute control. And then out comes the voice… OUT COMES THE BLOODY VOICE… If you speak to anyone who’s seen Nadine Shah play I guarantee that the first thing they mention will be THAT VOICE. When I had my initial encounter with it I was convinced that I was being serenaded by a slightly tipsy Geordie Viking God. It has a power unlike anything else you’ll hear – certainly not on modern pop radio or in mainstream music – and in a scene that’s supposedly full to the brim with big voices from Florence Welch to Adam Lambert that’s no mean feat. In short, it’s phenomenal.
The opening salvos fire out and there’s a swagger to new songs like “Fast Food” and “Living” that was only hinted at briefly on the debut album. You can tell by watching the rest of the band that they have a spring in their black booted step and enjoy the slight change in direction in these new songs. There’s a fierce energy to it all that’s impossible to ignore. Three songs in and the crowd are swaying in time and bobbing their Tyneside heads, already won over by the thrill of it all. The mid set wallop of songs from the debut album could have been a risky move considering how well the new material was going down but they were welcomed like wonderful (yet still a tad creepy) old friends. Absolute bona fide menacing classic “Aching Bones” is played as a powerhouse of industrial noir soul with Nathan Sudders on bass providing a thunderously belly rattling accompaniment to Shah’s dynamic swooning croon.
If all of this sounds very serious, cold and even a bit threatening then it may come as a surprise to report that The Nadine Shah Show is actually one of the funniest and warmest performances you’ll ever see. For the truth is that in between songs Shah is utterly hilarious and charming and has the crowd eating out of her silver ringed hands. We get anecdotes about how RETRIEVER descend from being her favourite ever band to her 27th favourite in the space of a minute as their singer was at the bar missing the set, to how her mum wasn’t quite as supportive as she expected her to be after finishing a stadium support slot with Depeche Mode in Germany. It really shouldn’t work. Surely we’re only supposed to be transfixed by melancholy and terrifyingly beguiled watching this stunning lady sing her heartbreaking songs? Instead there’s booms of laughter ringing out throughout the room as soon as the singing stops and the anecdotes start. That it all does work is a huge credit to Shah. We’re entranced by her honesty and humanity both in music and chat – it’s all part and parcel of the same package and it’s perfect.
The set builds up to its finale with the unstoppable force of recent hits (“Stealing Cars”, “Fool”) and finally comes to an end on a past one – a furious rendition of “Runaway” – after which Shah leaves the stage to utter rapture. She’s a big deal now.
Photographer: Graeme Baty