The Anchoress @ Bush Hall, London 15 June 2016

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the anchoress bush hall

Debut Album Confessions of a Romance Novelist  Out Now.

As venues go, Bush Hall is one of those that tends to be either totally random or totally brilliant. But it’s hard to imagine an artist and venue more suited to one another than Bush Hall and the Anchoress. Both artist and venue are glamourous to the point of unabashed campness – but not at the cost of the audience being able to take them seriously – and utterly unfazed by their own smallness (having built up a fairly niche but dedicated online following, tonight is only the Anchoress’ fourth gig).

The Anchoress appears on the already almost full stage (the band comprises a small string section as well a guitarist, bassist and drummer) in a floating dress and a giant headdress because of course she does. As the set consists of a run through of her debut album Confessions of a Romance Novelist, she opens with the beautiful ‘Long Year’, sorrowful and grand and honestly breathtaking. The audience stands rapt in silent awe, which they strangely maintain for the whole set.

Confessions of a Romance Novelist is full of light as well as dark; danceable, fun pop as well as such sorrowful heartstoppers, each one with a perfect arc of emotion that feels complete by the end. It wouldn’t be impossible then to dance to the fun ones in between standing (or sitting if you’re in the front few rows) and drowning in the emotions and the experience of the sad ones. Indeed the Anchoress herself dances about for the camper, more lighthearted ones, because they’re brilliant pop songs and that’s sort of what they’re for. Muted bopping with a notebook in one hand feels not right and too small for the very big and very fun choruses of songs like ‘One For Sorrow’, ‘Popular’ and ‘Chip on Your Shoulder’.

Her lyrics are full of wit too: lines like the title track’s “I lost the plot to Jeffrey Archer” are genuinely brilliantly funny, highlighted by its positioning at the dramatic climax of the song. The audience receiving them with the same rapt awe and expression of compassion feels like the sympathetic friend version of when you try to make a joke to your therapist and they give you the same sad-knowing-nod they’ve been giving you when you talk earnestly about your problems. It’s funny, guys, you’re allowed to laugh; it’s fun, guys, you’re allowed to dance.

Such pop masterpieces are as glorious as the ballads are heartbreaking. Highlights of this side of her work include ‘You And Only You’, which she performs on piano here, and the always harrowing ‘Bury Me’. The Anchoress leaves the stage and her keyboard for a piano offstage for these, causing the contrast between these and her poppier ones to feel all the starker. And though a few of her vocal habits are occasionally a bit hammy, the over-sincerity can work in her favour, serving as a reminder that the album is supposed to be a blur between autobiography and fiction. The whole gig is a gorgeous experience and I can’t wait for her next one, with perhaps an audience a bit more up for a bit of dancing.

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