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Louise Distras - Cluny 2, Newcastle 24.01.2019

Cluny 2 lies at the bottom of what feels like a never ending Escher-like staircase. The small room is painted with a partial balcony running around half of the room. It's cosy without being cramped and is a great room to play.

I miss the opening band, local guys Death To Indie (sorry as I always hear great things about them) and only catch half of Sunderland-based Nic Wood's set as I spend some time chatting and interviewing tonight's headliner Louise Distras. Nic is great from the four songs I witness. His humour is often directed at himself, a huge warm grin stretching across his face, clearly enjoying himself. His playing is cool but it's his voice that captivates you. It soothes and draws you in, but he has a powerful set of pipes on him. Nic doesn't really need the venue's pa as he steps away from the microphone, still singing and clear as a bell, sounding like a subtle mix of Jeff Buckley and Dave McPherson. Another artist added to my "must keep an eye on them" list.

Louise Distras is often painted in the media as an angry, political firework, and while part of that is true it sells her at a disservice. She walks into the room, all smiles, shaking everyone's hand with a pleased-you-could-come hello in a faux "The Only Way Is Essex" style voice, tongue firmly in her cheek and enjoying herself. Once she makes her way on to the stage she's smiling warmly and inviting everyone to come a little bit closer to the stage, which we do. It almost feels like a house gig rather than an intimate show, but it's one that allows us a taster of her new album in a raw and personal way.

It feels like Louise has been constantly touring and recording over the past forever but this is a good thing. During our chat before the gig she tells me that she's trying to make the very best possible album she can with quality song writing, performing and production. It all takes time of course and, on tonight's evidence as well as her past couple of singles, it looks as though she'll be achieving her goal.

She opens with the single 'Aileen' and attacks it with great relish, her long dark hair framing her face in the dimly lit room. It's like a back to basics tour to start and build momentum. Introduce everyone to the new songs in a stripped back, voice and guitar way, add in later tours through the year around the globe (the UK, mainland Europe and the states for the Punk Rock Bowling festival are already set for the next few months) and then some festival slots before being able to release album number two.

Tonight's set draws predominantly from newer material, mainly songs from the new album as well as tracks from the "Street Revolution" EP. It's all quite raw, relying on feeling rather than precise replication. Her voice is in great form, clear, strong and powerful, rather than a rough and ready snarl that you almost expect, allowing the vocal melodies to shine. On this evidence alone I think the album is going to sound like the right progression that was laid with "Dreams From The Factory Floor".

She's fun between songs too, inviting the audience to feel a part of the proceedings. One moment she's telling everyone how grateful she is (especially after a bad tire blow out on the journey to Newcastle), to inviting a particularly chatty couple by the bar to stop talking between themselves and instead join in singing along with the rest of us. She's engaging, reminding us to enjoy ourselves in life and that we're a part of a larger community. Louise has been shackled with the title of being a political musician and, yeah part of this true, but it seriously undersells her material and approach. I believe she's more about the politics of humanism, focusing on how we treat reach other rather than being oppressed and held down, although some of the songs touches on this.

I'm captivated through the set, her playing and performance leads me to ignore the dull back pain I've been feeling all day. The lengthy set passes swiftly, ending with 'Hand' and then no encore. I could have happily listened to more but she's off, grabbing a fresh bottle of water before mingling with everyone, including an old school teacher of hers who's come along tonight. We wait our turn to say hi again before heading off into the cold, wet Newcastle night. I'll certainly be looking forward to catching more of her shows.

Nic Wood

Review - Scott Hamilton

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