by Ian Mann
October 14, 2006
Radio programmers and marketing managers like to put artists into pigeonholes and Collister steadfastly refuses to be categorised.
Singer, guitarist and songwriter Christine Collister is celebrating her twentieth year as a professional musician. She initially made her name back in the mid 80’s as part of a duo with folk singer/songwriter Clive Gregson with whom she released a series of albums. Most of these have now been deleted although their debut recording has now been made available again.
For the past ten years she has pursued a sparkling solo career and has recorded many more excellent albums showcasing her amazing, genre defying vocals.
At present Collister divides her live work between intimate, wholly acoustic solo shows such as this one and her collaboration with blues guitarist/vocalist Dave Kelly and his band The Travelling Gentlemen. Kelly has been a member of The Blues Band for many years and both he and Collister relish the opportunity to broaden their musical horizons whist having great fun in the process.
During the summer festival season Collister also made a number of guest appearances with the great Richard Thompson. This is a musical partnership that goes back a long way. Thompson has contributed his inimitable guitar playing to a number of Collister’s albums.
This evening’s performance in Hereford is the opening date of Collister’s Autumn Tour. She is playing solo acoustic dates throughout September before embarking on a number of dates with Kelly and his band during October and early November. She then reverts to the solo format for the rest of November. Full details of the tour and of her album releases can be found at http://www.christinecollister.com
Tonight’s show has been promoted by local promoters Nightjar Music and is billed as “Nightjar Folk Club”. True, it is just one woman and an acoustic guitar but this is hardly standard folk club material. Collister embraces all styles of music from folk to country, jazz to gospel, pop to blues. Whatever the genre she makes the song her own, singing with clarity and conviction. Without doubt she has one of Britain’s finest voices, powerful and soulful but never overbearing or histrionic. She is not the most prolific of composers and often writes in partnership with others but she is a superb interpreter of outside material and her choice of songs to cover is immaculate.
Collister commences proceedings with “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child”, a gospel number sung unaccompanied and a fine introduction to the power and purity of her voice.
She then takes up the guitar for “Kicking In My Stall” a composition written with her friend and fellow singer/guitarist and songwriter Helen Watson. This is a feisty declaration of female independence as Collister pours withering scorn on a former lover. The song has a great hook and is one of Collister’s most successful homegrown compositions.
Country is the next genre to be tackled with a take on Emmylou Harris’ “From Boulder To Birmingham”. Collister makes this piece of Americana utterly convincing and once more demonstrates her intuitive feeling for a good song.
Kate Bush’s “The Man With The Child In His Eyes” is something of a surprise choice. Originally a piano song it nevertheless sounds fine transposed for guitar. Wisely Collister does not attempt to copy Bush’s idiosyncratic delivery but puts her own stamp on the song.
“A Kinder Heart” is a return to original material. This darkly dramatic piece is collaboration between Collister and Barb Jungr. The latter is a powerful and highly original performer in the cabaret tradition and is perhaps best known for her innovative and individual interpretations of Bob Dylan songs.
A beautiful version of Jackson Browne’s “The Dancer” is followed by “Lonely By Design” a strong new original composition being given it’s first airing this evening.
“Hallelujah” closes the first set. This is now one of Leonard Cohen’s best-known songs and the late Jeff Buckley’s cover has probably had more airplay than the original. It is a tribute to Collister that she still keeps it sounding fresh and it is a moving conclusion to the first part of the evening.
Collister is very talkative performer and likes to tell anecdotes between songs so we hear about her holidays, her family and her upbringing on the Isle of Man as well as the songs themselves. It’s all done with a great deal of charm and humour and if you don’t learn enough about her private life at the gig she even keeps a diary on her website. I know a degree of talking is necessary while she retunes but for me she can sometimes talk just a little bit too long. I’m sure most of her fans love it though and she chats away nineteen to the dozen during the interval as she sells and signs CD’s. She certainly has a very warm personality and is very relaxed with her public.
The second half also begins with Collister singing unaccompanied. This is a haunting piece sung in Manx Gaelic (not her first language) that she recently performed at a Celtic festival.
It’s back to the guitar again for another new song “Across The Nightingale Floor” with its intriguing lyrics and imagery. Once again the singing is beautiful and the song highly effective.
The next cover is of the late Jim Croce’s “Time In A Bottle”. I’d not heard this in ages and had forgotten what a good song it is. Collister’s interpretation more than did it justice.
“Queen Of Egyptian Water” is another strong original composition. Collister has long been a superb interpreter of songs but her own writing is beginning to blossom.
Collister then introduced a song by Patti Griffin an artist hardly any of the Hereford audience, including your reviewer, had ever heard of. After hearing Collister’s rendition of her beautiful song “Mary” with it’s evocative quasi-religious imagery Patti Griffin is a name that many of tonight’s listeners are going to be checking out.
At this point Collister produces a camera and takes snaps of a smiling, waving audience for her website. To top this she gets a staid Hereford audience singing along lustily with a Tom Waits song. No mean feat. The song is a cheerful little ditty called “Dirt In The Ground”. Great stuff.
Another Collister original “Joy Within My Tears” restores a little decorum and an achingly beautiful version of the old Fairport Convention stalwart Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” closes the set.
After such a fine performance it’s no surprise that a rapturous audience calls Collister back for an encore. She performs a remarkable folk version of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” picking the chords out on her guitar. Collister is not a virtuoso guitar player. She doesn’t do flashy instrumental breaks like Thompson, Bruce Cockburn or Michael Chapman. However, she is a more than adequate player and her understated style, whether strumming or picking always serves the songs faithfully and is the perfect foil for that incredible voice.
Finally she returns to the unaccompanied format for a tender and heartfelt rendition of “Songbird” written by Christine McVie and famously featured on Fleetwood Mac’s million selling “Rumours” album.
Collister has to drive back to London after the show but still has time for more chat with the fans. It has been a remarkable performance balancing power and passion with purity and clarity all underpinned by a formidable vocal technique and an unerring eye for a good tune. All this is delivered along with a true sense of fun and a refreshing lack of pretentiousness.
By rights Christine Collister should be far better known, perhaps her versatility actually counts against her. Radio programmers and marketing managers like to put artists into pigeonholes and Collister steadfastly refuses to be categorised. However, tonight this is our gain as we see a major talent in an intimate cabaret setting at the Courtyard’s Studio Theatre. They could do with some new lightweight chairs though!
It has been a great start to Nightjar Music’s Autumn season.
The Folk Club is held at the Courtyard’s Studio Theatre usually on the first Thursday of each month.
Future dates include;
Thurs 5th October-Tim Van Eyken
Thurs 2nd November- Emma And The Professor
Thurs 30th November-Blakes 111
Thurs 4th Jan- Jez Lowe And The Bad Pennies
Thurs 1st Feb- Nancy Kerr and James Fagan
Thurs 1st March-Anna Ryder
Thurs 5th April- John Kirkpatrick
Thurs 3rd May-Phil Beer
Thurs 7th June-Bob Fox
Thurs 5th July-John Spiers & Jon Bowden
Quite a line up I think you’ll agree.
There are also some Nightjar promotions in the main house;
Fri 29 Sep Julie Felix
Fri 13 Oct Chumbawamba Acoustic
Fri 26 Jan-Uiscedwr
Fri 9 March-Bollywood Brass Band
Wed 25 Apr- Eliza Carthy & The Ratcatchers
Also of interest at The Courtyard;
Fri 6 Oct- Kiki Dee & Carmelo Luggeri
Mon 9 Oct- Dead Men Walking
Sat 14 Oct - Buddy Holly & The Cricketers
Sat 24 Feb The Coal Porters
Fri 8th June- Chris Newman & Maire Ni Chathasaigh
More information at http://www.courtyard.org.uk or from the Box Office 0870 1122330blog comments powered by Disqus