Lockdown might not have been such a terrible thing for Manchester singer-songwriter Ren Harvieu. A self-proclaimed introvert, she tells the Birmingham crowd she’s enjoyed “staying in, writing songs, talking to kitchen appliances”. This is despite her long-awaited second album ‘Revel In The Drama’ appearing right at the beginning of the restrictions. It lead to a postponement of plans for a comeback, 8 years on from the success of her debut in 2012.
As such, this tour is the first time she’s been able to properly promote the album since its release alongside her 6-piece backing band and it’s clear they’re a tight outfit right from the start with opener ‘Teenage Mascara’, a quirky track which immediately shows off Harvieu’s amazing vocals – part jazz-singer cool, part pop icon projection – technically brilliant but grounded with a “northern gothic” style that makes for something refreshingly different.
Key to the new album’s sound musically is co-writer and guitarist Romeo Stodart of The Magic Numbers who stamps his trademark sound all over the upbeat ‘Strange Thing’ (“for all of the socially awkward stunners in the crowd”) and more delicate ‘This Is How You Make Me Feel’. The band is also bolstered by his bandmate/sister Michele on bass and additional multi-instrumentalists who can quickly shape the sound from huge-sounding and epic to minimalist to suit each song and complement Ren’s vocals.
The first fruits of a potential follow-up to ‘Revel In The Drama’ are aired tonight, including ‘Soft’ (“a song about keeping up appearances”) and set highlight ‘Salford Superstar’ which documents Harvieu’s time as a youngster on the talent show circuit prior to being signed. These tracks build further upon the sound of the previous album and are delivered with a confidence that makes them sound very special indeed. There’s also time to revisit some old songs from her debut album in ‘Through The Night’ and ‘Do Right By Me’ with Ren revealing that she’s still very proud of her old material and remembers the time fondly.
Before the excellent closer ‘Curves & Swerves’, Ren and her band take a quick diversion to attempt a lounge-inspired cover of Black Sabbath’s ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ for a bit of fun and a nod to their West Midlands surroundings, reinforcing just how varied and excellent the band can be on a whim. It may have been a long time coming, but with a performance like this there’s no doubt that Ren Harvieu is back and better than ever.
Robert Chaney and Felix Holt
There are a couple of short support slots from members of Harvieu’s backing band, with Robert Chaney and Felix Holt both playing four songs each. Chaney probably explains things best, describing his set as “a bit of an experiment” to warm up – his Americana-inflected opener ‘Breath’ is great but he doesn’t really have the time to build on it further and the rest of his set is a little rushed together and ad hoc.
There’s nothing rushed about Holt’s opening set of Dylan-esque acoustic numbers – he’s so relaxed he’s practically falling of his chair and struggling to keep his eyes open, but despite that his songs are quite charming and both supports serve their purpose well.
Review: Ian Paget
Photographs: Ian Dunn