Brighton Fringe 2014
Eliza Skelton is a phenomenal talent. Singer, songwriter, enchantress and conduit, this Brighton based artist has been quietly making music in a diverse array of creative formats for years – mostly to very modest acclaim and recognition. It was with great joy I saw the Spiegeltent had programmed a whole night of her work this Brighton fringe festival. ‘About time’, I thought and was clearly not alone – the venue was packed.
Eliza and Friends is a rare chance for audiences to experience a kind of taster journey through Eliza’s much under-appreciated back catalogue and side projects.
There is a big challenge as an artist, what ever your medium, if your natural tendency is towards introversion and privacy. There is an inherent conflict of interest, especially if your material comes from the deeply skinless and personal. There is not a lot of incentive to get the ego behind the push it requires to be seen and heard, to self promote, to be the personality behind the material. But of course this has to be done. Some are lucky enough to find a manager or producer who can provide those qualities, some are not so lucky. I recognise this struggle in Eliza. Thankfully she is winning this wrestling match and we are delighted to be allowed in. Some of our best art is made from this place. And I wonder at how many Elizas out there have never had their work see the light of day.
Eliza has a voice that is as diverse as is it divine, though I find myself mysteriously stuggling for appropriate adjectives. Here’s an attempt: It is one minute sylvan, crystaline and aloft then next minute bloodied, brassy and guttural. Then suddenly it is all loose and spare in jazzier Rowan Trio mode. It also disappears completely into the fabric of another artists composition – as backing singer for Oddfellows Casino, or the fabulous Jane Bombane, even as one part of the joyous a cappella trio The Silver Swans with Bombane and the incredible Emma Kilbey. There is a mercurial quality to her voice and presence. She is not an actress, but there is a way in which she is channelling personae. A feeling that she is living the material rather than ‘performing’ it – transfusing its metaphors, symbols and feelings directly into our bloodstream. Mainlining. I get the feeling with Eliza that within the music she finds sanctuary from the worldly pressures of self and ego. She is liberated to simply be a vessel.
Eliza surrounds herself with an extended family of musicians, many of whom are long term collaborators. They form different configurations around her inhabiting various musical styles – many of them multitasking. The gifted Jim Whyte is exclusively on drums, multi-instrumentalist Dan Burke and guitarist Paul Simmons made the most frequent contributions. Sister Sam Skelton and step daughter Gabby Woolgar are backing vocalists. Her son Jordan Woolgar makes a brief appearance on a co-penned song that feels inspired by The (mighty) Church. Many of the songs are inspired by the theme of family and there is the feeling that the material emanates from the deeply personal experience of pain in intimate relationships, dancing with the shadow and death.
There was much on offer tonight. I counted in total eight different acts, of which Eliza was in all but one and whilst I enjoyed most of what was on offer, the programme was overfull, particularly the first half. There were also serious issues with sound levels in the venue, which particularly hampered the bigger band material, rendering normally detailed work, sludgy, uneven and unimpactful. I am torn with how to recommend this night, so my ‘Highly Recommended’ stands for the artist herself and her work, rather than for my experience of the whole evening. My ‘Highly Recommended’ for Eliza is unequivocal.
The most satisfying aspects of the whole for me and – it felt – also for the audience, were those in which Eliza was at the centre, particularly the opening ‘solo’ songs where she was in airbourne, luminous folk mode, reminiscent of a Parallelograms vintage Linda Perhacs, with elements of Ziggy era Bowie leaping out of the mix. Also her closing set as The Desperate Ones – a kind of western-cabaret-noir, where she kicks against the shapes of Nick Cave, Scott Walker, Ennio Morricone and The Dresden Dolls. Good stuff.
She can afford to trust herself more. Be more bold and brave with her gifts. It is all going on. Extraordinary voice, brilliant lyricist, gifted musician. More please.
If you do get a chance to see Eliza live, catch it. You wont be disappointed. She doesn’t have a website, but her twitter feed is @ElizaSkelton.
There is a new solo album out in a few months time apparently.