– Castle Hotel, Manchester –

Sophie Jamieson

Sophie Jamieson

I came across Sophie Jamieson’s astonishing, raw debut album at the very start of the year. Gold Flake Paint, one of the best music blogs around, has a knack of presenting albums to me in their end of year roundup that I’ve never heard of, but because of their brilliant writing instantly know I will enjoy. I trust them implicitly. The final line of their small review dared me to listen: “tread carefully, and tread often”. I dived in whilst on an early new year walk, and reader, I was shook.

Choosing is an extraordinary, unflinching document of Jamieson’s journey from self-destructive behaviour (mainly revolving around alcohol and relationships), to somewhere a lot safer and brighter. Bookended by two of the most powerful songs I’ve heard in an age, it moved me to tears, streaming down my face as I walked through woodland, the cold stinging my tear-stained cheeks. GFP had done it again, I was hooked.

Delight, then, when I see Jamieson is touring, stopping off at The Castle Hotel’s intimate backroom. And ‘intimate’ is indeed the word for it. Chairs have been laid out, and there are about 20 people in attendance. Jamieson’s set up is just her, an electric guitar, an amp, and us. She can eyeball each and every one of us; we only have one point on which to place our attention. Coupled with her vividly brutal songs, it makes for a very intense evening, in the best possible way. This is Jamieson’s first headline tour, and she confesses she is nervous. Her story is one of disillusionment with the industry, having first released some EPs almost a decade before her debut album came out late last year, and she still seems a little wary of it all, despite finding a happy home on indie label Bella Union. Regardless, she is a transfixing performer, channelling the potency of her songs into an enthralling show. Album opener ‘Addition’ opens the set too, and threatens to be a high point, such is its power. A hymn to a devastating hangover, she sings ‘don’t let it edit me / I’m more than the sum of the booze in my blood’, before ripping into a guitar solo that sounds exactly like the inside of your head the morning after a heavy night. She then brings it all back to merely a whisper, ‘I’m more than a drought / I’m more than a flood’. It’s quite the opening, and from that moment on I can’t tear my eyes from her delicate, strong presence.

We get most of her album Choosing, including a barely there version of ‘Crystal’, piano lead on the album, transposed to guitar here to beautiful effect. ‘Downpour’ sees Jamieson let go, her voice a roar, her hands furiously striking at chords, and ‘Violence’ is mesmerising. One of my favourite songs from the album ‘Fill’ lives up to it’s elevated billing; it’s impossible not to be moved as Jamieson, eyes fixed on an unknown point, sings ‘I am starving / and my behaviour is becoming alarming / I tried hardening up / I tried to be tougher with my love/ I tried to need nothing / but I am starving’. It’s heart wrenching to the extreme. Amongst the album tracks there are new songs, each captivating and promising for album two, as well as some older songs which help break up Choosing’s alcohol soaked depths. As with the album, the night closes with ‘Long Play’, a song that points to a rosier future – ‘you’re no clown, you’re a woman / and you’re only on side A / you’ve still got the whole long play to twist’ – a beacon of hope, a move forward.

I don’t quite know how she does this night after night on tour, this outpouring of personal stories told with unwavering intensity. And truthfully it’s not the easiest watch either; such is the personal nature of the songs and this perfervid performance, it’s not the most comfortable Thursday night I’ve had at a gig. However, it is one of the most powerful performances I’ve seen in a long time, and we should all place ourselves out of our comfort zone every now and then – indeed Jamieson seems to be doing it on a nightly basis. I’ve been thinking about it ever since, and when something leaves that deep a mark on you, you know it’s been special. Tread carefully. Tread often.

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