You readers may have seen a piece on this site back on 10 May titled Introducing Basia Bulat, heck, you might even remember it – there was a reference to the new ‘Canadian sensation’ signed to Rough Trade, a clutch of tracks to listen to and a handful of live dates. I confess I didn’t really pay too much attention.Anyway, a couple of weeks later I was asked if I wanted to go and see her perform live and, having nothing else to do that evening, I agreed and half-heartedly set about listening to whatever tunes I could get hold of. Which was when I realised I’d been saved from making quite a silly mistake.
I’d not been into the back room of the Glee Club before. The main room sometimes suffers from an atmosphere akin to a school assembly but this was much cosier. I was at the back of the room but still almost within touching distance of the stage. As I had settled into my seat and chatted to my neighbour about the support act I’d missed, when a little blonde lady in a red dress led her band out on to the stage.
The band take their places and Basia sits down, wrestles with the microphone stand and with a strum of her autoharp brings us all under her spell. A minutes worth of strumming and singing – short and sweet – follows and it’s apparent that there’s more on offer than yet another well-meaning but tiresomely derivative songwriter.
When the applause abates, the second song brings the whole band in with an abrupt change of pace, as if flexing muscles to show that we’re not in for a moping, one-paced show.
The set is perfectly paced and varied with the songs wrapped in a delicious warmth that pervades the room, drawing us closer into the songs. Most of Basia’s album Oh My Darling features with Why Can’t It Be Mine, La-Da-Da and December staying in the memory. Violin, piano and ukulele are interspersed over the drums and Basia’s autoharp and guitar with enough invention to keep the attention up.
Double-time hand claps from the whole band introduce I Was A Daughter, continuing until their instruments are needed and silencing for the duetted middle part before coming back in and rising to a quick crescendo.
Little Waltz comes mid-set and is the undoubted highlight. Plucked guitar notes decorate a sorry tale of love that didn’t quite blossom before the strings invoke the song’s emotion. The line “I learned how to dance but I never showed it to you” holds such repressed feeling than Ishiguro would be proud of it.
Basia’s between song banter is quite at odds with her demeanour when singing. She has trouble speaking between the giggling and manages to sound entirely genuine when she beamingly announces how pleased she is to be playing in Birmingham. Maybe she is genuine. Tonight is the one month anniversary of their being on tour so perhaps the novelty hasn’t worn off, but then with highlights like staying with the drummer from Dexys Midnight Runners how could it?
On drums Basia’s brother Bobby, teased for his surly onstage demeanour, is impressive, especially on The Pilgrimming Vine where he keeps a tight martial beat on the snare while the song unfolds around him. If there’s any suggestion that working with ex-Arcade Fire’s Howard Bilerman has had an influence it’s on this song.
A rousing rendition of Snakes and Ladders closes the set and as the band troop off they make it as far as the door before being called back by the crowd – not in the usual charade of these things but with more of a pleading edge. The band turn back at the door to give us one last morsel.
Basia Bulat and her band of family, friends and housemates have returned to Canada for the time being but until they come back I’d heartily recommend buying her album. You may as well get in early because as everyone seemed to agree after the show the little girl with the unusual name is headed for bigger things.