About ten years ago a friend/associate who did press for Island Records invited me to meet him at the Louisiana in Bristol, where a new artist he thought I would be interested in was doing a support slot (I think to Tammy Payne). I met the singer, who was very shy and endearingly serious, then stuck around for the soundcheck. It was the early evening dead time, with just the sound engineer and me and my mate in the room, but over two songs the singer, who also played electric guitar, gave it her all. Spines tingled, hairs on the back of the neck, etc etc. It was Amy Winehouse and as far as I can reconstruct the moment, the songs were probably ‘You Sent Me Flying’ and ‘Know You Now’.
While it wouldn’t do to over-egg the pudding, there is a comparable sense that Olivia Chaney, who appears at St George’s on Thursday 16 January in a double bill with Joe Volk, is an extraordinary artist at the beginning of what should go on – unlike Amy, sadly – to be a really distinguished career. Since I booked her for the gig on the strength of great word of mouth and a few youtube clips that showed beyond doubt that she was a fantastic new talent, Olivia has been signed to a prestigious contract by classy Nonesuch Records and been nominated for two BBC Folk Awards.
Olivia Chaney is a folk singer, I guess, but it would be unhelpful to limit her to one genre, as she’s clearly capable of just about anything, as Nonesuch (home to the Kronos Quartet, Steve Reich and Joshua Redman, among others) are no doubt aware. She plays guitar and piano more than serviceably, has a beautiful pure voice that conveys the essence of traditional material as perfectly l as any new artist I know, heard here on her wonderful reading of ‘The Dark Eyed Sailor’ recorded for Mark Radcliffe’s radio show. She also writes her own songs, which are impressively deep and multi-layered, as this clip of her Folk Award-nominated ‘Swimming in the Longest River’, shows. In addition, Olivia has unimpeachable taste in covers, as you can see from her versions of Bert Jansch’s ‘Running From Home’, and Joni’s ‘A Case of You’.
She’s recording her Nonesuch debut album now, so the St George’s show should offer a vital glimpse of creativity in progress. There’s a nice buzz building about the show and a gathering sense that this could be a quiet storm of a gig. The venue is perfect for her; we’ve got a proper piano for her to alternate guitar and harmonium with; she’s bringing a second musician to add more instrumental detail, and the expectation could hardly be higher, given her recent signing and the Folk Award nominations. Hell, I’m even quite excited. So, if you want to be able to say you were there right at the beginning of a famous career, you know what you have to do. That’s right: buy a ticket.
Phil Johnson, Senior Programme Producer