If Beth Orton’s set seemed a little subdued at first, it was probably only down to the fantastic performance from supporting artist Brodka and her band. Kicking the evening off with their energetic and eighties reminiscent brand of folk-pop, the quartet were a more than pleasant surprise to those who arrived early enough and they will have probably sold a few records in the process. They almost stole the show completely with a cover of Nirvana’s ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ that replaced the brooding menace of the original with a more contemplative and measured tone. Brodka herself has a beautiful voice and the makings of a front-woman who could go very far.
So when Beth hit the stage, standing in front of a quite stunning backdrop of spherical video screens, it took a while to adjust and remember who it was we’d come to see. This probably wasn’t helped by the fact that she opened with two songs from the new album, which, it seemed, much of the crowd was unfamiliar with. ‘Moon’, her opener, is one of the few songs that might go down as filler on the otherwise stunning ‘Kidsticks’, and it didn’t immediately grab a crowd that had been so captivated by the act that had come before.
It only took three songs for Beth to dip into her back catalogue, though, and with ‘Galaxy of Emptiness’ we not only saw a lift in the atmosphere, but were also treated to the first real display of the singer’s inimitable vocal range. From this point on she was fully in her groove and the crowd was right there with her, egged on in particular by her down to earth and jovial adlibbing between the songs. A particular highlight came when she told one phone-wielding watcher to stop filming up her nostrils for the whole show as it wasn’t attractive for anyone. ‘Be here with me instead,’ she instructed him. And by that point we all were.
Further songs from ‘Kidsticks’ followed, but, with the crowd now warmed up, both ‘Petals’ and ‘Dawnstar’ seemed to get a better reception. And so they should. The album seems to have gone somewhat unnoticed since its release earlier this year and that was probably reflected in the fact that Beth was playing a venue as small as Manchester Cathedral and there were still tickets available on the door. But it really is a stellar LP, and once the crowd had been treated to their first hit of the night they seemed more accepting of its quality.
That said, the biggest cheers of the night were definitely reserved for ‘Stolen Car’ and ‘Central Reservation’, two songs that came a little later in the main set. Some singers can seem slightly upset when songs they released two decades ago receive a much more rapturous reception than their equally interesting and original new work, but Beth performed both of these with a smile on her face and an obvious affection for the music that made her a much loved cult star.
The encore started with ‘Call Me the Breeze’ from her 2012 album ‘Sugaring Season’ and then segwayed into two more big hitters in the form of ‘Sweetest Decline’ and ‘She Cries My Name’. By this point, an originally reluctant crowd seemed desperate for the show not to end. Beth’s performance showed the maturity and experience that a twenty-year career in the industry can give, but there was also a sense that she knew these smaller and more intimate shows suit her better than some she may have done at the height of her fame. As long as she goes on producing albums that might be considered hidden gems, and performing with such passion, she will go on leaving audiences wanting more.