There are few things more Christmas-y than settling down for an intimate performance in a space that lends itself to good acoustics and a communal feeling - apart from the ability to recreate the atmosphere in the comfort of your own home, courtesy of a live recording.
Through the years this ambiance has materialised in a variety of ways: carol recitals, gigs and audio-visual experiments have mostly been accompanied by mulled wine and chilly digits in the run up to the holiday season. But without fail, each year at least one artist will attempt to capture the moment in the studio. No matter who takes up the gauntlet, one thing is for sure: the talent of the musician will be stripped down for all to see, and fans will expect to be bowled over by songs that they already know and love.
In Christmas 2016, this tradition finds a conductor in Lucy Rose. Performing in a characteristically unusual space in Bristol Central Library, Rose’s angelic vocal is backed by her band mate Alex Eichenberger’s careful harmonies. Together they explore songs from Rose’s previous two albums, Like I Used To and Work It Out... Songs from which have been recorded live to create Live at Urchin Studios.
The idea of releasing and re-releasing material to celebrate both the live arena and the season to be jolly is not a new phenomenon. As far back as the 1960s artists such as Diana Ross and the Supremes and Stevie Wonder cashed in on the commercial aspect of Christmas music, and independent artists such as Charles Brown (Charles Brown Sings Christmas Songs) and Neil Diamond (Acoustic Christmas) have also contributed to the tradition. As for original songs, MTV Unplugged offers seemingly unlimited seasonal access to music from the 80s and 90s, and most recently DrunkenWerewolf has been wowed by acoustic albums from Patrick Wolf (Sundark and Riverlight) and Villagers (Where Have You Been All My Life?) – also released within days of Christmas. There is definitely something to be said for quiet(er) moments of musical reflection going hand in hand with mistletoe and wine.
So Live at Urchin Studios is not alone in its (question mark) tactical release around the time of gift giving. But is it more stocking filler than adoringly wrapped present from Father Christmas? It sits somewhere between the two. Rose has such a beautiful vocal it’s hard to understand why it’s taken her 7 active years to turn her hand at recording a live album - music seems to exude from her effortlessly. However Urchin Studios isn’t instilled with that special magic that will help fans to fall in love with her songs all over again. It's more of a gentle reminder of what she's capable of creating.
Ironically - considering this sort of release has a tendency to shine a light on warts and all - one of the reasons for this is the lack of mistakes on Live at Urchin Studios. Rose’s vocal is incredibly strong, and she doesn't stray too far away from the original interpretation of her songs. On stage, only her chirpy conversation confirms you’re not in fact listening to the record. It’s a sad and twisted affair when a musician’s ability to perfectly recreate her work actually means the performance lacks uniqueness. Tucked away in a corner of Bristol Central Library, it would be nice to feel just once in a while that the audience is being treated to something that, musically, no one else will ever experience. Yet you get the feeling Lucy could reproduce the entire experience with the flick of her wrist.
It’s not that the gig isn’t special, however. There is definitely something to be said for gig promoter the MJR Group’s choice in venue, and Lucy Rose seems the perfect companion to an evening among books. Librarians flutter around the audience, clearly keen to please, and there’s over all a brilliant sense of secrecy to the event.
Lucy also provides the night with a comic routine, recounting tales of family and ‘finding herself’ with enviable ease. Her relaxed nature adds to the familiar atmosphere and helps everyone to feel as though they’re talking to her from across a table.
So what about talent and being bowled over by songs we already know and love? Rose doesn't fail on that front, either, and by the end of the gig everyone leaves feeling positively Christmas-y. It's not been the rapturous experience of years gone by, and Live from Urchin Studios probably won't be at the top of our list to Santa, but it's something to remember nonetheless. Lucy Rose's Live from Urchin Studios is out now.