I hadn’t even hit my teens when Beth Orton’s Trailer Park debut was released. I’d bought her albums in retrospect at the start of my 20s, just as a six year hiatus began, and went back to them several times over that period trying to find in them what other people continually seemed to rave about. Despite all of this I wouldn’t say she was an artist I had to work to like, but I did need to grow up to appreciate it all – from the lyrical content to that rough and emotional alto voice. As I jostle near the front of a packed and sweaty O2 Academy crowd (after standing for over an hour in an equally rammed Truck Store to see her play there), I start to selfishly appreciate her staying power. It’s allowed me to be seriously late to the party.
Backed by a band tonight, including her partner and collaborator Sam Amidon, there seem to be less of the usual nerves. A set representative of both the old and the new opens with self-assured performances of Call Me The Breeze and Dawn Chorus from 2012’s Sugaring Season, eliciting immediate hush from a characteristically respectful crowd. In fact, most of the new album makes the cut tonight, with State of Grace, Poison Tree and a solo piano led rendition of Last Leaves of Autumn standing out as instant highlights to match any of her earlier work.
Of course, no artist with a career spanning so many years can come out and play only new material, no matter how good it is. Shopping Trolley, Central Reservation and She Cries Your Name, which is pulled out during the encore, inevitably draw the biggest crowd reactions but the win is by a margin – Beth Orton isn’t really one for ‘filler’ tracks here or on her records. Standing beside a friend who will probably admit to treading a thin line between hero worshipper and stalker fan, I realise that’s part of what makes this crowd so loyal, and what will support Beth Orton’s career to continue to grow and evolve.