Review: Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo – Australia House, London

I’m not used to having my handbag searched and being made to walk through a metal detector on entering a gig, but then I suppose it’s not every day you go to a folk concert in the Australian Embassy. The interior was beautiful and imposing, the walls dripping with ornate wooden carvings and tawny-white mottled marble pillars. I was just getting ready to freak out and feel inappropriately dressed, when the security guy pointed out that the reason I set of the detector was probably “because of the wiring in your…y’know…brassiere” and I saw that the nibbles were predominantly breadsticks and M&Ms. Well done, Australian Embassy. Way to give a whole new meaning to the term “smart-casual”.
The setting was, as a concept, fairly bizarre, but the atmosphere was relaxed and jovial. Somebody who looked important and serious gave a short speech about the superfluity of rich and wonderful offerings from Western Australia, such as minerals and fuel (hmmm?). What she should have said was,
“The reason we’re all here tonight is because Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo are a fantastic cultural export from Western Australia and, as such, we see the band and the music they produce as the perfect creative ambassadors for our part of the country, thus tonight’s location”.
But she didn’t say that, which was a shame.
Anyway, she did stop talking, and Emily Barker, with her three equally talented band mates, took to the stage. She had tweeted earlier to her fans that it was “a ridiculously important night tonight! Please send love at 7pm when we play in front of 120 industry VIPS.” If they were nervous, it didn’t show. The four of them were wonderfully calm and united on stage, and their timing was impeccable. With the current trend for violin-cello-accordion-flute-athons often comes a tendency to overplay, just for the sake of a slightly unconventional instrument being heard. There was none of that last night; the playing was sensitive, skilled and wonderfully balanced.
You can always tell when a band has something special when everybody is silent and staring, gawping, oblivious to everything else. I was so transfixed that I didn’t realised I had my hand fiercely clamped over my other hand the whole way through the last track of their main set, Bones. It still hurts.
This band has everything: inspired arrangements, divine harmonies, great writing and a refreshing modesty. Here’s hoping they make it even bigger – they absolutely deserve to.
Find out more about Emily Barker And The Red Clay Halo, including details on their upcoming UK tour, over at www.emily-barker.com
Anna Byrne