Secretly On Your Side.by Sydelle Willow Smith / 22.02.2011
Before seeing Imogen Heap live I was only vaguely aware of her side project Frou Frou and the hit “Let Go” which featured in the Garden State Soundtrack. The main attraction was from a visual perspective. The concert was going to be held in a forest amphitheatre on the Paul Cluver Estate in Grabouw- a venue that has a fairy-like quality. The stage, set against a backdrop of majestic trees. The audience (mostly middle class, late twenties, white) settled in and spread about the descending amphitheatre, digging into their prepacked Woolworths picnic baskets and drinking chilled white wine out of glasses that clink.
A quirky, Helena Boham Carter styled creature steps on stage with a crisp British accent, and a tendency to constantly “take the piss” out of herself. This is the humble and talented, Imogen Heap. The stage is constructed like a music box, the ones you have as a kid that run off a little winder, with painted flowers and a twirling plastic ballerina. On stage a piece of tree hanging from the rafters, is entwined with fairy lights. Twigs are being auctioned off for a charity, raising funds for a literacy project and children’s school books. Every now and then Imogen would check the side of the stage for slips donating small and large amounts, one note read “I’ll donate R1000 if you let my girlfriend sing a song with you”, which is exactly what she did.
She very quickly wins the audience over with her stage presence and quirky charm. At one point the sound dies for a few minutes and in the awkward, empty silence that followed she quickly piped: “Any Questions?”. She has a comfortable stage presence, with no sense of entitled “stardom” or celebrity status. Laughing at herself, as her loop machine was tuned out of key, or when she forgot the lyrics to a song half way through. I think I enjoyed her personality more than the music, which in itself could be described as somewhat “popish”. Fun, easy listening and diverse. The looping, the use of a cello/percussionist husband and wife team and the range of musical instruments all made for an entertaining and innovative show. At one point she used half filled wine glasses and a piece of washing machine pipe in a loop, as she built up the rhythm of a song.
For the cynical music listener, her brand of pop is acceptable due to the artistry of her looping and the intimacy of the lyrics. Her live shows provide one with an inside scoop on their construction, Imogen constantly provides a context for each song, such as how she feels about herself when she looked in the mirror, or when she tried to get a man into bed who drove her mad due to his dietary requirements.
As I snuck away for a cigarette “Let Go” began. A man stood beside me, smoking, halfway through he turns to me and says, “this song ruined my life for two years”. One woman jumped up with a small teddy bear and called out declaring that she had met Imogen many years before in Brighton, proudly labeling herself Imogen’s first genuine South African fan.
Alas the tickets were expensive and the distance to the venue meant that the crowd was generally well off, a bit older and partial to both enjoying the wine as well as the music. The intimacy of the set reminded me of Gary Thomas or a Guy Buttery gig. The beautiful setting made and personality of the singer made it an evening that lingers in the memory much longer than the music.
*All images © Sydelle Willow Smith.