The Sunflower Bar, Belfast
19th October 2018

This is the first gig I’ve been to, where the act whose name is on the ticket, actually collects the ticket as you enter the venue. Belfast’s Sunflower Bar is an intimate setting and Emily’s presence at the door creates a homely atmosphere, where everyone is made to feel special by a very attendant host. Emily takes the tickets, sells merch, rearranges chairs, chats and takes selfies with the punters. When the music starts, she simply enthralls.

A fine set of guitar instrumentals is played by David Bradbury, who also doubles as the soundman for the night. He may have to consider giving up his night job, on the basis of this performance.

From the moment Emily and her partner Lukas Drinkwater play the first note of ‘Little Deaths’ to the last sounds of her encore, she holds the audience in the palm of her hand. She has fitted a lot into her musical career, and that variety is on show tonight. From country to folk, from jazz to soul, all her influences are on display. But it is her voice that is the main draw. Strong and vibrant and soft and sweet, it is the versatility that most impresses. It can ring like a clarion bell on ‘More’, or move you close to tears on the exquisite ‘Over My Shoulder’.

Lukas Drinkwater provides excellent musical backing on bass, guitar, and laughs. He jokes that initially, he was just the driver for the tour, and only learned the bass as the evenings were quite boring while Emily was singing at shows. It’s a very easy-going evening, nothing is rushed and quips from the crowd are expertly fielded with some witticisms from both.

Emily is still best known as the writer and performer of the theme to Scandinavian thriller series ‘Wallander’, starring Kenneth Branagh, and ‘Nostalgia’ appears relatively early in the set. It is a mysterious tune of painted images and scenes that allow the listener to imagine their own mini-movie and draw their own conclusions.

Tram wires across Melbourne skies cut my red heart in two. My knuckles bleed down Johnson street. On a door that shouldn’t be in front of me. Twelve thousand miles away from your smile.

At the time of the offer of writing the soundtrack, Emily admits to not knowing who Branagh was but tells us that she did meet him at the opening of the London Olympics when he was dressed as Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Quite a surreal moment one would imagine.

Her most recent album is a fully infused soul album, that celebrates Motown and Stax records. Hard to replicate with a two-piece band, yet the stripped-down versions are terrific in their own right. Like a deluxe version of the album with an acoustic extra disc, the versions offered tonight are quite sublime. ‘More’ is one of the most exuberant tunes on the album, yet played here with just electric guitar, the want and the desire of the singer for her love are brought to the fore. ‘Sister Goodbye’, an unashamedly paean to Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the “godmother of rock and roll” emphasises her inspiration to so many and the loss felt.

And oh didn’t it rain precious memories falling down from the sky. ‘Til I see you again, bye bye sister goodbye.

An encore of ‘Pause’ (another theme tune from a detective series – ‘The Shadow Line’) and a superb heartwarming rendition of ‘If We Forget To Dance’ seems to bring the evening to a close on a remarkable high. But Emily yet again surprises us with a brilliant cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Tougher Than The Rest’.

As the gig ended, Emily resumed duties as hostess of a very fine evening of excellent music. I hope to attend her next party. I want more!

Emily Barker Setlist Sunflower, Belfast, Northern Ireland 2018