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Sunday, 9 October 2011

Heidi Talbot casts spell of loveliness over Bethnal Green

If there were any East Londoners in the Shoreditch/Bethnal Green area last Thursday who were disconcerted that the traffic roared less loudly, the autumnal sunlight was a more shimmering gold and strangers were friendlier: relax, I can explain.

Heidi Talbot played in St Matthew's church, at the Shoreditch end of the Bethnal Green Road, and enveloped the whole area in a shimmering cloud of female loveliness.

Almost miraculously, someone recorded the event on camera, so here she is singing The Shepherd Lad, a song that culminates with the line "Kind sir, you are a fool without and I'm a maid within', which always makes me grin.

The venue, which is the church where both Kray twins' funerals took place, had recently completed a refurbishment that was itself little short of miraculous. This is because (1) it's extremely beautiful (inside and out), welcoming and thought-provoking with a staircase that looks as if it was built be decked in holly and ivy with a Christmassy choir ranged up it. And (2) the builders went bust, leaving at least one other local church - St John's at Bethnal Green tube - up the proverbial waterway without a paddle. The local church wardens have been summoning hitherto unsuspected levels of guile and low cunning to navigate their way through the situation, in at least one case threatening the scaffolders that if they didn't take the stuff away (they were refusing because they hadn't been paid) they would dismantle it themselves and sell it to the competition.

However, all this was forgotten when Talbot, accompanied by Boo Hewardine and Matheu Watson,  made the place her own. Delicious-looking sandwiches and beer were laid on at the back of the church, providing a carbohydrate-based serotonin boost, as if one were needed, and all was well with the world.

The gig was a part of the Orain series, organised by St Margaret's House, a local charity that, among other things, organises on behalf of the mentally handicapped: there are lovingly snapped pictures of many of their "clients" on the walls of the hall behind Bethnal Green's Gallery Cafe. James Yorkston will be playing St Matthew's next on October 27.

Quite apart from the music, which was magical - her voice like dancing water, the original songs beautiful and absorbing in equal measure - Ms Talbot also sported a very fine pair of shoes. So fine, in fact, that I overcame my notorious shyness to try and take a photograph of them, with her permission. But it was too dark and my friend Keith took the piss out of me for having done it, in any case. So you'll have to make do with this shot from the shop's website.

I feel it would be only decent to leave you in contemplation for a moment...

Leaving it for me only to say that it may very well be true that John McCusker abandoned this tour with his wife (for he and Talbot are married) because he had received some piffling offer from - who was it? - Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler. But I saw Bob Dylan earlier this year at the Feis in Finsbury Park, he was rubbish and anyway, I ask you: is it possible to purchase, from a table at the back of his gigs, a self-branded tea towel?

I rest my case.

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