Nadine Shah

Nadine Shah


Despite having stuffed myself into oblivion more than once at Gorilla with vegetarian breakfasts and heavenly halloumi burgers, strangely enough it’s my first time at Gorilla as a venue, and I really like its size and the stage background studded with something that looks like thermometers but probably is not.

Near the door, when I arrive, I immediately spot the unmistakable I Am Kloot bassist Pete Jobson and fellow band member Andy Hargreaves. The audience is quite mixed tonight, but certainly no Justin Bieber fans in sight. As it always happens to me for some mysterious reason, an admittedly inebriated lady in a flowery kimono approaches me smiling and asks if I am a die-hard fan. I explain that it’s the first time I see Nadine Shah live, so I might become soon. I also add that I’m in the first row because I’m diversely tall and I need to take pictures. She warns me she’s a bit drunk. I say ‘not to worry, I don’t discriminate against tipsies’.

While listening to the background music, I fear that by the end of the gig I might be completely deaf, and I regret leaving those ear plugs at home. Luckily, I was wrong, and the sound is absolutely perfect tonight, also thanks to the gentle drumming provided by Ben Hillier, co-writer and producer of Nadine Shah’s both albums, Love Your Dum and Mad (2013) and Fast Food (2015), and producer of many others’ (Depeche Mode, Elbow, Doves etc.). The Shah team tonight includes, beside Hillier, Nick Webb and Elliot King on guitars, Nathan Sudders on bass and our dark lady on keyboard and guitar. While we wait – the Shahs will arrive at around 21.15 – I eye the setlist on stage.

The beginning is a bit timid, with ‘Jolly Sailor’, ‘Matador’ and ‘Fast Food’, all from the latest release. Nadine Shah is impeccably smart and, as soon as she appears on stage, the charisma I had been feeling while listening to her music and watching her videos materialises. The recurrent mentions of the influence of PJ Harvey and Nick Cave are entirely justified. However, the austere Nadine Shah I had seen in many recorded performances tonight splits into Nadine Shah the comedian. She welcomes the crowd with a bright smile and immediately warns us that there is some gin circulating.

It is with ‘Living’ that the temperature in the room rises and we really start hearing Hillier’s elegant touch and Nick Webb’s guitar now. Nadine Shah’s voice is as deep and wonderful as in her records, but it’s her presence on stage that I find particularly fascinating. She is confident and relaxed, with no diva attitude, despite ticking all the boxes for being one, in a good way. At times she’s a typical British girl, joking about alcohol and giggling, causing the boys to look at each other and smile like Cheshire Cats.

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Ben Hillier

The next is ‘Aching Bones’, possibly the most Nick Cave-y of her songs, with disquieting piano, tempo and singing and a video featuring Shah as a femme fatale tearing apart chicken and human hearts alike, surrounded by cobwebs like a black widow ready to mate and then kill her partner, which is, more or less, what the song is about. This classic theme of the heartless woman who uses her partner, causes his death and then watches him die happy while she is left with nothing but regret was also explored in Fabrizio De Andrè’s classic ‘La ballata dell’amore cieco (o della vanità)’, inspired in turn by ‘Y avait un’ fois un pauv’ gas’ by French writer Jean Richepin.

One of the highlights of the show is a passionate version of ‘To Be A Young Man’, which sees Shah leave her instruments and focus solely on the singing. Webb’s acoustic guitar is remarkable; the band is now fully in it, and the audience appreciates vocally.

Digression. I have been following Nadine Shah for a while now, and I remember this brilliant Facebook post a few months ago in which – when the refugee crisis became more prominent approaching the summer – she wrote, without hesitation, that any racist and/or xenophobic followers who were not happy about her discussing the issue on her social media, should immediately unfollow her, since she would not tolerate any such shit on her page. The fact that she is the daughter of a Pakistani father and a Norwegian mother certainly makes her particularly sensitive to the topic, but it’s not only that. Nadine Shah has shown, consistently, to be a mature artist whose work is firmly rooted in reality and who is very attentive to what happens around her. Mental health is a crucial topic in her work; so is the theme of loss, and, in several interviews, she has stressed how committed she is to raise awareness about the stigma linked to mental health problems. What I appreciate of Nadine Shah is that she can discuss serious issues without being boring or patronising and very funny without being silly. Not that being silly is an issue, but you know what I mean. She doesn’t joke about dicks trapped in zips, to quote Stewart Lee.

Back to our show. The next is a new song, ‘Out The Way’, which is precisely about being a second generation immigrant, and she introduces it by saying that this country’s cultural diversity and richness is ‘what makes the UK beautiful’. This is the noisiest song of the evening, and it’s here that Nathan Sudders, Elliot King and Ben Hillier rock the casbah. ‘That’s passion!’, Flowery Lady observes. I nod, there’s passion everywhere.

Nadine’s powerful voice and performance dominate the scene, while the other band members mostly create a cohesive, low profile musical background for her: no solos, no virtuosity, all is kept very simple. Shah is a chatterbox though, and sometimes I get the impression that Hillier uses his drumsticks to remind her that she’s not at the Edinburgh Fringe, which I find quite funny. After claiming that she chose Manchester over Newcastle because we are a nice crowd, Shah introduces ‘Stealing Cars’, one of her best songs and one that really emphasises how skilfully she can use the range of her voice. She is now very serious again.

Nadine Shah

Nadine Shah

The last song, ‘Runaway’, is dedicated to her ‘mate’, Pete Jobson, who is in the audience and, she says, is like a big brother to her. It’s another great song in which the influence of PJ Harvey is quite strong.

Shah and Webb come back for the encore after hardly a minute. ‘Thanks for still being here!’, Shah says, and comments that we are a bit quiet. She’s right, we are a bit quiet, but that’s because we’ve been listening in awe. ‘No way!’ Flowery Lady says. ‘Norway?’ Shah replies. It’s comedy time now, because Nadine at this point has forgotten the chords of a song and swears a bit, blaming gin. Webb looks at her like an evil teacher from a Smiths song and reminds her the chords of ‘Divided’; she’s on electric, he’s on acoustic. If Tom Waits can drink, Nadine Shah can drink too. Nadine Shah is just perfect, whether she’s gin-fuelled or not.

The rest of the band comes back and Shah promises that this is the last song, since she’s ‘knackered’. She thanks the support band, Kingsley Chapman and The Murder, and invites some volunteers on stage for the line dance that accompanies the video of ‘Fool’, in which even the Gentleman of Bass Jobson dances. Four ladies felinely jump on stage and I obviously encourage my Flowery Lady to join too as I can feel that she’s got the moves. Nadine says ‘I’ve never done this!’. The stage is suddenly a bit tiny and at some point Nathan Sudders looks like a multiply-armed Indian god, but it’s the lady dancing behind him that creates the effect. He seems amused. It’s pleasant to see those ladies dance joyfully, although next time someone has to organise the actual line dance, please. Let’s show Nadine what we can do, FFS. At the end of the show, Shah pulls a few faces for the inevitable stage selfie and at 22.35 it’s all over. Nadine Shah descends among us mortals and talks to everyone, very friendly, like Jesus certainly did with his groupies. (I say Jesus and Corbyn springs to my mind: what would Freud say? ).

‘It was a bloody lovely night’, Nadine Shah said. Indeed, a very good night. I’m knackered too, but happy. Nadine Shah’s popularity is growing very fast, deservedly, in the UK and abroad, and I’m happy to support an artist who is not only a great musician and a very smart woman, but also a responsible citizen who chooses to use her position to stand for some important issues, without caring about losing ten UKIP fans; in fact, being happy and proud of losing those fans.

Lots of love, Nadine and thank you, from an immigrant, for what you do and say. It is hard sometimes, as your parents must have told you. Let’s hope the UK and Europe remain the beautiful multicultural places they still are. At the moment it’s not looking very good, sadly, and that’s why it’s important to have people like you around.

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Francesca Nottola

I write, translate, edit texts and take pictures. I solve problems for pensioners and create problems to everyone else. Sometimes a history researcher and language tutor, I would happily live in a national archive or in the head of professional musicians. Unfortunately, I say what I think