A stolen lamp, a borrowed rug and a rustic charm fills the stage. Just a hipster’s 5km run away from the chaos of the global financial centre here’s Bess Atwell – cosy as a cat and as warm as an open fire – breathing calm with every song.
Looking out on the chilly venue Bess announces that tonight marks the end of the current tour. Cheers and applause erupt but Bess is sad, “that’s not how I feel about it!”. Three weeks on the road bonding with her fellow musicians promoting her latest album Already, Always and she just doesn’t want it to end.
Bess Atwell offers that timeless campfire infused sound that recalls the intimate beauty of Laura Veirs, Aimee Mann and even the fragile vibe of Swedish chanteuse Stina Nordenstam too. Wearing a red baseball cap she admits to being “self-conscious” about wearing it. It’s a wise choice. The venue feels as cold as its Norwegian namesake tonight.
Accompanied throughout by multi-instrumentalist Chris Matthewson (aka first support act Growing Boi) and Marcus Hamblett, Bess opens with the sublime introspective jangle of Cherry Baby.
Before playing the instantly recognisable Co-op Bess laughs about her naïve comment at the Cardiff gig and how she asked the audience if they have Co-op shops there. Her engaging stage banter draws you further into the Atwell world. A place of intimacy and confession. So snug that nobody would be surprised if her parent’s cat Herbie (her feline foil on her album cover) turned up purring, curled up around the table lamp.
Yeah, and about that lamp. With more than a hint of naughty glee Bess confesses that the lamp and rug – which bring a homeliness to the Hackney stage – were purloined from her housemate. Maybe that’s why she’s nervous about the tour ending and her imminent return to Sussex…to face the music.
Talking of angst. Bess introduces the languorous Time Comes In Roses as a song her mother doesn’t like. It’s packed with twenty-something disquiet. Life isn’t so much ‘measured out with coffee-spoons’ but with the seasonal blooming and fading of flowers. Bess states “I’m tired of being like my mother. I get excited, I get depressed. I’m never happy with how I’m dressed…”. Oh come on now Bess that red cap really isn’t so bad…
Sartorial matters are further addressed when Bess announces that she is “co-owner” of a top that tour-mate and supporting artist Eve Owen found in a charity shop. Before Eve is invited to accompany her on stage, Bess talks of the awkward moment when she tried to encourage Eve to purchase the Playboy sloganed clothing…only to end up buying it herself! She reneged on her promise to wear it tonight though.
More hearth-hearted tunes follow. Bess throws another log on the fire with the homage to her childhood toy on Dolly. Then introduces her atmospheric cover of The Blue Nile song Downtown Lights. The early goosepimples in the cold venue have gone. Replaced by a spine-tingling wave of warmth as Bess breathes out this beautiful hymn to Glasgow. Let’s hope she’s more prolific and produces more than the four albums her Scottish heroes have managed.
The glowing embers of the night begin to fade. Bess apologises that there will be no encore due to the curfew but I’m sure the neighbours would love to be serenaded into their sleep by her beautiful prose and gentle strumming. There’s still enough time for the guilt-laden and haunting How Do You Leave where she asks “can you mourn somebody breathing, now that you can float?”. A fitting finale before she heads off to the merch desk to scribble inspirational messages on her album sleeves as she chats with fans.
During the gig Bess revealed how she “bores” her tour bus buddies “every night” telling them how amazed she is that people come along to hear her songs. Later she ends one song with the line “nobody thinks I’m special yet…”. After authentically recreating a home from home on the stage and sharing her innermost thoughts through her songs, there are some home truths Bess Atwell needs to address. She needs greater self-belief because she is very special indeed…oh and Bess really should stop stealing her housemate’s stuff!