White's Hotel, Wexford, 20 October 2001
Hold the front page - the new Christmas number one is set to be Juliet Turner and Brian Kennedy's version of 'I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You'. This was, among others, one of the announcements made at Turner's midnight gig at White's Hotel, staged as one of the alternative events of the Wexford Opera Festival.
The Omagh singer does provide a welcome relief from the endless parading of eveningwear - plenty of whom have straggled into White's Hotel - as she belts out a set so finely honed one feels she could perform it in her sleep. Even the anecdotes seemed perfectly cued - Sammy Davis could only have looked on in wonder.
The night began with a 'Vampire', a song about sexual guilt, as Turner coyly reminded us. And 'coy' is the word that sums up Juliet Turner's performance. Her lyrics, which seem easily forgotten amongst the gentleness of her melodies and her shy-girl intonation, are innocently knowing. As she comments of one relationship - 'I could take a crash course in the Beatles, but there's love, and then there's trying too hard?'
This song, 'Call Me Green', has become indicative of many things about Juliet Turner. In terms of structure and melody, it's her most ambitious work. The acoustic version released on a recent Hot Press cover CD, and recorded at Galway Bay FM, showcased lyrical and instrumental subtlety unheard of since the former days of Tori Amos. Yet tonight, the jazz-drive of this song, backed by a whole band, becomes lost amidst a haze of loud guitar, drums, bass?
All this serves to drown out Turner's diminutive vocal - yet this is what the audience is here to hear. The moments which work best, in terms of crowd response and singer performance, are those when Turner takes the stage alone. Her solo performance of 'I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You' reflected the best of Tom Waits' original - her voice perfectly capturing the bending, wistful melodies of the song. What occurs when Brian Kennedy duets on board remains to be seen.
Without exception, the above three songs were the highlight of the evening. When her three-piece band came onstage Turner worked her way through the best moments of her two albums to date, focusing mainly (as she has been doing for well over a year now) on material from 'Burn The Black Suit'. Her 'wee' introductions to particular songs, spoken in a 'sure aren't men and women just liked cats and dogs' style, primed the audience perfectly for each number.
And Turner is a female songwriter who writes well for female listeners. Of course the male of the species can, and did, listen and appreciate, but at stages the inter-song chat, and indeed the lyrics themselves, were of the 'c'mere girls, and listen to this' variety. When she spoke of 'scratching neath the surface of a dark, mysterious man and?finding nothing', the wry smiles had even the most debonair of Wexford's opera buffs twiddling with his G and T.
After ninety well-worked minutes, and ending with the often-encored (and wryly ironic) 'Take The Money And Run', Juliet Turner mildly slipped off, to large applause. The world did remain unchanged, but Turner's neatly-crafted tunes (of love, loss, guilt - the usual) did impress. With her newly-signed major label deal, and imminent Brian Kennedy duet, she could be our female Ronan Keating.
Or maybe, just maybe, our Joni Mitchell.
Check out also the review of Juliet Turner live in the Point Depot one week earlier.