– Deaf Institute, Manchester –



“This one combines my love of the 70s with my love of bastards…” deadpans Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson with a nod and a wink, as she introduces her next song ‘Peter Bogdanovich’ (“I like you Peter, I wish you were a wife-leaver”), taking to a stool clutching some kind of 80s looking plastic hand-held casio synth instrument. Better known by her stage acronym CMAT, Thompson is a whirlwind of very knowing country-pop kitsch in the absolute best possible way; it’s an utter joy to be in her company for the next 90 mins or so. From the very first blast of ‘Nashville’, a tune big enough to see off an encore but cunningly played right up front, to the dying embers of ‘I Wanna Be a Cowboy, Baby!’, a tune big enough to actually see the encore off with a crowd sing-along, I barely stop grinning like an idiot, consumed by the sheer feel good star power of Thompson and her band.

There’s a festive atmosphere in Deaf, a fair smattering of cowboy hats amongst a veritable smorgasbord of demographics; there’s a couple with their teenage kids in tow, gaggles of gals, bearded 6 Music types, and a big representation from the LQBTQ+ community, who adorn Thompson with both a rainbow flag and a hilariously tiny rainbow cowboy hat at various points throughout the show. Everyone loves her, and it’s easy to see why. She’s a magnetic performer, and one who surely will not be gracing smaller venues like Deaf as she pulls more and more people into her joyful orbit (indeed she is booked in at Gorilla later on in the year… but surely a Ritz or Albert Hall awaits in the not-too-distant future).

Underneath the sheen of camp country glam however, there is real grit. Take the aforementioned set closer ‘I Wanna Be a Cowboy, Baby!’, a jaunty, crowd uniting sing-along where people throw their arms around their mates and shout “I wanna be a cowboy baby!” at each other (yes, we were one of them, and it was great). It opens with the lines “I feel bad because I didn’t cry when someone I grew up with died, but I break down every time I’m on the scales”, and the next verse begins with “my style icon is Wolverine, between each finger lies the key, to getting home without a buckaroo”, Thompson addressing depression and the omnipresent threat of women being attacked after a night out, disguised under a tune so hummable I assume Radio 2 are playing it in their daytime schedule.

It’s this that elevates Thompson’s songs, mini dramas full of truths, regrets, self-deprecation, with real heart and care for the craft of a country tune and a show. Before the power-pop of ‘No More Virgos’, an ode to shagging the wrong sorts and her girlfriends attempt to put her on a better path, she says “this is my big pop moment, they don’t have a trapdoor here at Deaf but imagine they do” at which point the song starts, she crouches down, and slowly glides up as if on stage at AO Arena, her eyes clearly seeing 15,000 people instead of the couple of hundred gathered here, staring up to the rafters of a megadome as the adoring hoards sing “no more Virgos, no more little September boys” back at her. Armed with these songs and her megawatt magnetism, it’s not impossible that she’ll be there very soon.

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