After her submission to the XSNoize Unsigned showcase, I have been following Kelly Oliver with interest and tonight, I finally managed to catch her live (albeit as a support act) at a venue as humble as she is. The Colchester Arts Centre is a former church on the Roman wall that surrounds the town centre and typically of Churches, has great acoustics, perfect for acoustic music. So on this beautiful spring evening, it seems I’m already onto a winner.
As Kelly is introduced by the Colchester Folk Club, they remark that the headline act, Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman, requested her specifically as support. She comes on stage dressed all in black bar her boots, armed with nothing but a Taylor acoustic guitar and bass drum pedal and her humble charm. After briefly saying hello to the audience she breaks into the title track of her 2016 album, Bedlam. Her sweet, high voice carries a little gravel tonight that the recordings somehow manage to miss.
It adds a more emotional quality to her songs as her voice breaks a little with it. The first few songs are interspersed with a little commentary about each one, it’s genuinely interesting and casts her songs in a fresh light. This particularly helps carry the story behind Lay Our Heavy Heads which she introduces as a song about her Aunt and Uncle which she tells us is inspired by the love demonstrated by her Uncle to her Aunt where after their 40 year marriage, her Aunt became terminally ill and her Uncle nursed her until her death. It’s close to home for me and the lyrics were very touching. She also joked about how she is pro marriage, that is, other peoples marriage!
For me, the stand out track of her 30 minute set is Miles to Tralee, inspired by her grandmother’s emigration from Ireland to London where she found love, started her family, but never forgot her Irish roots or those family relationships she left behind.
Kelly is most often pictured smiling, but from start to finish, her live performance sees her face contorting with the raw emotion of her ballads, not least during Lay Our Heavy Heads. Her mastery of the guitar is more obvious live and while her concentration is more obvious away from the mic, she makes even her most complex walking riffs seem easy.
All in all her set, while short, was excellent and I for one, look forward to catching a longer set when she next headlines.