Born in 1970, British singer/song writer Beth Orton came to the attention of the world at large primarily after her stunning and affecting guest vocal spot on the brilliant Chemical Brothers track “Where Do I Begin?”, off the duo’s sophomore long player, 1997’s Dig Your Own Hole.
From 1996’s Trailer Park right through to her latest release, last year’s Sugaring Season, Orton has forged a highly effective career, with a distinct and candid character and tone to her singing voice, one that can make the listener stop whatever they are doing and give it their undivided attention.
Performing tonight in the striking and highly unconventional surrounds of St Michael’s Uniting Church in Melbourne, this was a combination of artist and venue that made perfect sense.
With solid support from Oh Mercy’s Alexander Gow, appearing solo with just a guitar, this was a solid night, although it didn’t quite soar to the heights that it possessed the ability to.
Unfortunately, Orton was battling the last of a bout of a flu she picked up somewhere along the journey, struggling to hit the upper register of her affecting vocal range. She wasn’t helped by the less than stellar sound mixing and lighting, which at times both left her sounding a bit scratchy and/or in the dark to the assembled audience.
Ultimately, these were small niggles and complaints in regards to the quality of the show that Orton put on. Solo onstage, with only a guitar and piano for accompaniment, she proceeded to beguile and charm.
This was very much a showcase for her latest release, Sugaring Season, a candid and personal reflection on life inspired by becoming a mother for the second time. Songs like “State Of Grace”, “Dawn Chorus” and “Poison Tree”, with its lyrics lifted from the work of poet William Blake, powerfully sit alongside some of her earlier work, really painting a journey and path that Orton has taken physically and spiritually through her life.
Her between song banter was where she really endeared herself to the crowd. There really is no filter with this woman, with her telling stories of her life and times while tuning her guitar, much to the delight of the crowd. One got a strong feel and vibe of Orton in these moments, such as when she was in awe of the size of her piano.
It was her older material that triggered the biggest response from this incredibly respectful and polite crowd. Material from her first three albums such as the still affecting “She Cries Your Name”, “Stolen Car” and “Central Reservation” are something of a revelation to hear in this form, stripped of all the studio trickery and taken down to their bare bones.
In a world of singers that get to the point where they are clones of themselves, Beth Orton is a true original. A seasoned performer, she is thankfully free of the jaded cynicism that can seep through after so long in the industry. She is very much the spiritual daughter of singers from times past such as Joni Mitchell, not afraid to paint her life experiences through song and wear her heart on her sleeve.
Tonight ended beautifully with her stunning reading of a one-hit wonder from the The Five Stairsteps, the unforgettable “Ooh Child”, done in a raw and naked fashion as only Orton can.
Not without its flaws, this was a highly enjoyable night.