Lucy Rose – Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, UK (6 November 2017)

For someone who has a butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-her-mouth look about her and the sweetest of voices, Lucy Rose has the capacity to blow the roof off even a cavernous venue like the RNCM when she suddenly and unexpectedly raises it. And a surprising propensity towards profanity, which is a tad surprising given that she appeals to an older audience as much as the younger end of the spectrum. A very enthusiastic group at the back looked like they’d come straight from a Bingo session.

She’s a character of contradictions for sure. The set comprised mainly songs from her third album, ‘Something’s Changing,’ which was inspired by a two-month backpacking tour of eight Latin American countries in 2016 arranged on a quid pro quo basis with a clutch of fans she already had out there. The deal was – if you can arrange the gigs for me I’ll come and play.

Arising out of that experience was the song of the night, ‘I can’t change it all’, dedicated to someone she had met on the trip who’d been dealt a bad hand in life and whom she was desperate to help, but couldn’t. Similar to Héloïse Letissier’s (Christine and the Queens) ‘Saint Claude’ in its portrayal of helplessness outside your comfort zone, with more than a hint of one of her influences, Joni Mitchell as well, and quite moving, with a beautifully subtle violin contribution, one of several during the evening.

Another dedication came before that song to someone in the audience whom she recognised and who’d been “to the last 17 gigs”. Not on this tour mind, this was only the fifth of 20 shows. It’s easy to make a joke out of something like that but to her credit she takes her audience very seriously. Self-deprecatory in the extreme and possibly even a touch fragile, she constantly questions why anyone would want to come out on a Monday night and pay to see her and on several occasions gives a countdown to the end of the show “because half of you love me and the other half are friends who’ve been dragged along”.

In the circumstances, ‘Find Myself’ was a fitting final song to the main set. You get the impression she’s trying very hard to do just that.

Otherwise, the highlights of the evening came when her (very good) band left the stage, presumably for a tea break (she’s a big fan and even has her own brand on sale at the merch stall, another of those little idiosyncrasies that make her such an endearing character). At this juncture ‘Our Eyes’ and ‘End up Here’, a bonus track on Something’s Changing, were both delivered solo, the first on piano and the second on guitar.

The prelude to End up Here was not something you’d expect to see in any live show as she debated with herself on whether or not to leave it out of the set and replace it with a more popular song on the basis that she hadn’t considered it strong enough for the album, so how could it be justified here? She mused that she might never play it again after tonight and at one point it even seemed as if she’d ballot the audience.

That “more popular song” did finally appear in the encore (after about a quarter of the audience had left, presumably those that had been dragged there in the first place), although she didn’t reflect on it herself.  ‘Like an Arrow’, from her sophomore album ‘Work it Out’ and the most danceable of the evening, was a joyous finale to an enjoyable evening with the Bingo brothers and sisters happy-clapping in the aisles.

Brittle or not, it takes guts to swap the leafy jungles of South America for the concrete jungle of Manchester on a cold Monday evening in November and Lucy Rose, with her music, humour and charm, sent everyone home happy.

Charlie Cunningham has a nice line in acoustic guitar finger picking and slapping, keeping better time than a metronome; a busker par excellence. He’s a pretty fine vocalist and wordsmith too, singing meaningful little ditties about youth, old age and everything in between.

His set flagged a little in the middle but to harp on about that would be nit-picking. And he really needed a backing band for his song of the evening, ‘Minimum’, a powerful number.

A well-received set from a high-quality performer and perfect hors-d’oeuvres for Lucy Rose.