It’s a rare treat this Sunday evening in Belfast: a seated concert in the Ulster Hall. It’s a space that, when seated, is usually reserved for the finest of delights: the Ulster Orchestra, perhaps or a jazz quartet but this evening we’ll be able to kick back and relax for an electronica show. Alison Moyet’s 35 year career having traversed many different paths including jazz covers and pop is going back to her electronic roots on this, ‘The Other Tour’ celebrating 2017 album Other.
First though, we have the support act for the Cork-Dublin-Belfast leg of the tour, Banbridge’s own Pat Dam Smyth. Two spotlights cross and shrouded in the shadow of the peak of his hat, Smyth and his guitar set the not-quite-mournful tone he’ll continue to mine this evening. The rest of the room is dark, save for the occasional torch of an usher showing someone to their seat. Between-song… not banter exactly, but a kind of bashful conversation is provided, Smyth seemingly embarrassed that he wrote a song imagining what his famous actress neighbour – “Emily” – gets up to but it’s a poignant piece, deft storytelling mixed with yearning. He moves to keys for the plaintive “Juliette” and the ‘Could hear a pin drop’ cliche is present, has been present all set, in fact. Clearly delighted at playing the Ulster Hall – something he mentions repeatedly throughout – he leaves the stage after 40 minutes but not before taking a selfie with the audience behind him, the audience rewarding him with warm applause.
Beginning with the overpowering “April 10th” the audience is hit with a wave of poetry, much more oppressive than on record, synth punctuated and heavy and dare we say a little pretentious? We cannot even be sure if Alison Moyet is on stage yet, so drenched is it in purple. Moyet’s ‘That Other Singer On Tour’ blog tells us that when her tour arrived at Cork Opera House the crew there said they’d never seen the like of her light rig, likening it to Pink Floyd and it’s not hard to see why. The light and smoke is at times so dense it renders Moyet invisible, the mic stand seeming to lean with some ghostly power. Moving on to the steadily approaching threat of “I Germinate” the message is clear: this will be a serious show.
It’s said that after Yazoo broke up Vince Clarke paired up with Andy Bell to form Erasure because his voice reminded Clarke of Moyet’s and this might not be true but it’s certainly believable. Both voices carry an androgynous resonance and an emotional power although with Erasure this is sometimes hidden in playfulness. Moyet has embraced her power for decades [“This is a song I wrote 40 years ago” she says as she introduces audience favourite “Nobody’s Diary”] and is still extremely strong, the contralto range unusual in pop, especially current pop. Each word is lovingly pressed out on a heavy breath, there’s an artful quaver here and there. “Wishing You Were Here” has shades of Bowie in the slight twangs and held notes. Love song to her Mother and the love of language she instilled in Moyet “The English U” is a treatise on loss with lush synthesised strings and harp and her jazzy voice deals with the runs, replicating at times the curve of a saxophone wail.
It’s not a concert filled with movement. Three people stand on stage: her self-described Musical Director John Garden who switches between a variety of synths and a guitar and producer and writer in his own right Sean McGhee who also from his synth and laptop station provides delicious backing vocals. Both are mostly still, even instrument changes are smooth and small leaving it to Moyet to provide what at first doesn’t seem at all like kinetic energy. It soon becomes clear, however, that there is an art to stillness, to a tilt of the head or an arm draped over self as if in comfort. Because of this when she outright grins or steps from the mic stand holding it at arm’s length it is electric.
In the end it’s an effective showcase of the brand new, the depth of the new songs speaking for themselves and the bringing back of some old favourites, mostly bathed in pink light that contrasts with the mostly blue-lit Other selection, co-produced by Guy Sigsworth who previously worked with Björk. The audience behave as they should: reverently listen to the new and whoop for the familiar, finally breaking free of their seated-gig bonds for the encore of “Don’t Go” which is a joyful affair for all concerned. Those expecting a greatest hits tour were likely disappointed. They got a few, no more than that. But this was never meant to be a greatest hits show, this was the unveiling and celebration of a new work that Moyet is proud enough to tour and, frankly, she should be. She’s been writing songs for 40 years and is just hitting her stride.