Launching Muscle Shoals at the Green Note in London’s Camden Town, Amanda St John was with Paul Tierney on guitar – her co-writer of among other material, ‘Walk Away.’ Stevie Watts on keyboards completed the “acoustic” line-up on this occasion St John explaining that the rest of the band had not been able to make it over from Ireland so “Stevie was drafted in.”
Completely at ease on stage, a warm presence, her voice is nothing less than a soul experience. In addition to her new songs ‘Grow’ from her back catalogue was a feelgood stand-out and got the healthy sized turn-out singing along with her as she walked into the middle of the room.
St John also delivered stirring versions of ‘I’d Rather Be Blind’ synonymous with Etta James but much earlier it was her accomplished take on Mary Gauthier’s ‘Mercy Now’ covered in recent years by Liane Carroll that indicated her power and passion and the songs tumbled along one after the other – the dice landing in what turned out a winning streak as the set wore on.
St John, from the north coast of Country Antrim, recorded the album at FAME in Alabama with Tierney and some of “the Swampers” among the personnel at the studio where Aretha Franklin made history. St John told us how you could smell the sound and how the place had hardly changed in years – “manky carpets” and all.
Blessed with a simply superb voice, she has brilliant stage presence and delivers her audience chats with grace and no little humour. She took off her shoes after a while joking that her stiletto could have fallen through a hole on the stage. The songs have a validity and authenticity to them borne out of a huge amount of turbulence in the singer’s life.
It is only once in a blue moon that a singer as credible in this soul seeking style as St John comes along. To conclude she owned the room: everyone should hear her. Grasp any opportunity to do just that. – Stephen Graham / pics marlbank