When you go and see a live band and there is a support, there are usually two possibilities. Firstly, you might not find the support act quite to your taste, and having paid good money to see the band of your choice, having to waste time listening to something else can be annoying. Alternatively, as is so often the case, you might really enjoy the support. That happened to me when I saw Renaissance at the Maltings in Farnham. Support on that occassion was by a duo called Big World Blue, comprising Jo Beth Young and Martyn Barker. Jo and Martyn were definitely musicians that I had to see again.
It happened to me again at Green Note in Camden on the 28th May 2018, when I went to see the launch of Talitha Rise's album "An Abandoned Orchid House". At first, on hearing that there was going to be a support, I was slightly disappointed. As Talitha Rise mainly performs on the South Coast, the opportunity to see her doesn't occur that often. However, must confess that as soon as Flora Hibberd began playing, I was blown away. Very impressive. If I believed in reincarnation, I'd have been convinced that she was Leonard Cohen reborn. Cohen was primarily a poet, and Flora's lyrics had the a quality that fely as if they could have been penned by him.
Clearly I'm not the only person who has made the mental association between her and Cohen. She too must be aware that her music feels like an homage to him, as she included in her set a cover of "Famous Blue Raincoat". There are portraits of some musicians on the wall at Green Note, including a picture of Cohen, and you could feel that Flora felt honoured to be perfoming in front of the image of the man. Her lyrics, like that of Leonard Cohen, are laced with imagery of religion, love, loss and sex. 'How your body shines - I will make it mine - For a while.' 'If I am an absentee in the hollow of your bed. . .', 'They didn't preach Grace like I thought they would, they taught me to kneel, and from under their hoods they condemned me and bade me be meek.' Really impressed with the depth and passion in her songs, particularly from one so young.
She was accompanied by two wonderful musicians, Matt Arthur and Julian Wright, who sat cross legged at the back of the stage, almost hidden behind her. Their lack of ego was very refreshing. They were there to support Flora, and were not attempting to seek any of the glory for themselves. Primarily guitarists, but one of them played a small keyboard, almost like a child's toy, linked to a vocoder.
So, what, or who, is Talitha Rise you may ask? Some social media sites allow you to select from a status of 'In a Relationship', 'Single' or 'It's Complicated', and the latter sums up Talitha Rise fairly well. In Mark's Gospel chapter 5, there is a story of the time when Jesus was asked to visit the house of Jarius, the leader of a synagogue, as his daughter was dying. Just as they arrived outside the gate, someone came out to say that it was too late, the twelve year old girl had died. Jesus told Jarius not to worry, she was merely sleeping and went inside. For some reason, St. Mark records what Jesus said in Greek: 'Talitha cumi', which translates as 'Young girl, rise.' The phrase Talitha Rise is therefore part Greek, part English, but a phrase that can bring life back to the dead.
Big World Blue, when I saw them supporting Renaissance, were unsigned, but when they were signed to a record label they changed their name to Talitha Rise. The name was intended to cover both the work of the duo, and of Jo's solo work. But Talitha Rise sounds like a girl's name. So Jo Beth Young uses it as an alter ego. Talitha Rise is Jo Beth Young and Martyn Barker. Jo Beth Young is Talitha Rise, and Talitha Rise is Jo Beth Young. There's a beautiful logic that transcends mathematics.
The new album, "An Abandoned Orchid House" credits lead and backing vocals, pianos, keys, lead, electric, bowed and bass guitars, wine glasses, percussion, harmonium and psaltery to Talitha Rise, and credits Martyn Barker with backing vocals, drums, hangdrum, percussion, guitarett, acoustic, electric and bass guitars, moogs and psaltery. Talitha is now synonymous with Jo.
In addition to all those instruments played by Martyn and Jo on the album, there are also twelve other musicians playing instruments from French Horn, cello, viola, violin, guitars and something called a riti. Jo performed the release solo, with just an acoustic guitar, so the songs were completely pared back from the complex layered tracks on the album to pure folk, but no less beautiful. I was chuffed to see that Martyn was there in the audience to give Jo his moral support. Would have been lovely if he had joined her for a track or two, but this was Jo's night.
I have not yet heard the voice of an angel, and am well prepared that I might never. I have not yet heard the voice of an Elf from Middle Earth, and must confess that I'm less prepared that there's a possibility that I might not ever hear one of them sing. In the meanwhile, Jo Beth is the perfect alternative. Her voice is magically ethereal.
There are ten tracks on the new album, and seven of these were played at the launch. The tracks that weren't played were "Bloodfox", (which was released as a single towards the end of last year), "The Lake", also released as a single last year and "Incantation", which has evolved from an earlier Big World Blue song "God's Hands". Most of the entire set were songs new to most of the audience. The only songs I had heard before were "Chapel Bell" (released as a single a few days before the album release), "Valley" as that was a Big World Blue staple, and the encore, "Invisible Fishing", Jo's first single release as Talitha Rise.
The lyrics are intricate, profound and sometimes quite obscure, which invites you to listen again and again. For example, "Twisted Tree" is based around the Belgian town of Ypres, more famous as a World War I battle ground. There is a bell tower there from which in Ancient times, as a means of trying to encourage the harvest, cats were sacrificed by being thrown from the top. The practice was stopped eventually when one cat survived.
Jo opened with a song that doesn't appear on the album called "Little Deaths". Have not yet been able to work out what this song is about yet as the phrase is ambiguous. Little deaths, or the more commonly used expression La Petite Mort, originally meant a fainting fit, but evolved to refer to the unconscious state that sometimes occurs post orgasm. I was also wondering whether there might be an x-rated theme behind the title track "Orchid House", given that the name Talitha Rise has a Greek root, and so does the word Orchid. An abandoned orchid house could be a euphemism for a place no longer visited by, well I'll leave you to look up the etymology of orchid yourselves. Turns out I was wrong though, and "Orchid House" really was inspired by an abandoned green house once used to grow orchids!
There's a common theme running through several Talitha Rise songs: overcoming adversity. Humans are subjected to many problems. The lifeboat won't throw us a line, though. We have to sink or swim on our own. But we do swim. We survive.
Another theme in several of her songs is light. Not surprising, you might think, for someone who has a voice that, even if it can't bring life to the dead, can bring light into darkness, but Jo's songs have a slightly different view of light. In "Valley" the sun brings light into the valley every morning, but with each new day the light brings fresh problems. In "River", the river is described as 'illuminating', but Jo asks ' who would trust the river?' as it runs away from you. "Chapel Bell" is based on the Hans Christian Anderson story, The Little Matchgirl. Jo strikes matches to temporarily bring light to the darkness, but admits that it is the darkness that makes us grow. She also refers to herself as a 'matchstick girl' in "Hungry Ghost" (a song that wonders whether it is better to be mad and happy than sane and unhappy?)
I'm guessing here, but I suspect that this negative view of light can be explained in the lyrics of one of the songs that Jo didn't play from the album, "Incantation". A childhood friend of hers committed suicide, and so became a 'sunbeam'. An event which made Jo grow stronger, and has influenced her song writing.
Superb songs, whether acoustic or on record. A superb album release, and a superb evening listening to two amazing singer songwriters.
Set List - Flora Hibberd
As Long As There Is Night
Down In The Pass
Famous Blue Raincoat
Set List - Talitha Rise
Little Black Wing
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