Sunday 21 February 2021

Tanita Tikaram, Live & CD


at ‘Sheffield City Hall’ 
(13 February 1990)

All good people read good books. Tanita’s been reading ee cummings, Willa Cathar, and the dictionary. 

She roars into “Sunset’s Arrived” in a hellish red glare of down-lighting that melts her eyes to holograms, and a lyrical weight that already has the stage-boards creaking. 

The peasants call her the goddess of gloom, but now she’s introducing a so-far unrecorded song called “Hot Pork Sandwiches” – ‘wrapped in foil, cornered and laced with gristle’, and it’s not lacking in humour. It was written in Basingstoke’s ‘Chelsea Coffee House’, in the tradition of Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel”, Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning”, and… Sam Cooke. It concerns her three-way ethical struggle between her Islamist family heritage, her own vegetarian convictions, and the enticingly appetising pork aromas acting on her hunger. It’s a mouth-watering little song, and yes, Cohen and Mitchell – but why, I ask her, why Sam Cooke?

‘Because Sam Cooke used to sing about…’ despite her taste for dictionaries it seems she’s momentarily out of words. She grins up for help at a tour manager in a Bob Dylan sweatshirt, as if for inspiration. Because Sam Cooke sang about pork sandwiches? I suggest (not to my knowledge, he didn’t!). ‘Well – yes’ she resumes, ‘but he used to sing about sunsets, evenings, boys meeting girls, things like that. And particularly if you know some of the early songs like “Meet Me On The Corner”…’ So yes, I’m convinced. Gloom? ‘Rich with complaint’? No. She’s animated. She smiles and laughs engagingly. She twists her thick black hair into coils around her finger, then shoves its rich deluge aside while the Presley pout dances in and around her words. 

There’s some discussion about whether her fans are Tanettes (as in Brosettes), or Tikheads (as in New Kids On The Block-heads) – but whatever, with two huge albums in the shape of ‘Ancient Heart’ (no.3 in 1988) and ‘The Sweet Keeper’ (no.3 in 1990, both produced by Rod Argent), there’s no seat left unsold. There’s a five-piece back-up against shifting colour-fields of green, mauve and beyond. Frontline guitarist Mark Cresswell who liquidises “Thursday’s Child” with delicious edges of swooping slide, and the long charcoal-sketched shape of Helen O’Hara (former Dexy’s Midnight Runner) whose violin swathes powerglide the Patti Loveless song “Timber”, which Tanita collected from American C&W radio. Drummer Nick France, bassist Andy Brown, and Bob Noble’s keyboard provide sharp shades to “World Outside Your Window”, or hard angles to – say, “Good Tradition”, with sensitivity or aggression as required. But it’s in solo settings as white as cameos, on the touchingly exquisite “Cathedral Song”, that her tunelessly tuneful low-register voice stands in a relief sharp enough to warm the coldest critic. 

Tanita Tikaram, tonight dressed down in loose black collarless trouser-suit, sprang fully-formed from nowhere, healthily at variance to any discernible trend other than the vague catch-all of ‘World Music’. She does “Ain’t No Cure For Love”, a song by the ‘marvellous’ Leonard Cohen, and that’s about as close a clue as we get. It works amazingly well as a Tikaram song, until you start inverting the equation and imagine Cohen rasping out Tik-songs “Little Sister Leaving Town” or “Preyed Upon”, and it’s a useful exercise. Cohen’s oblique musical and lyrical strategies are compounded and upgeared through her occasional twenty-year-old’s pretentions, but remain intact. And if words like ‘pretentions’ don’t sit easy, her writing is still more fun than a chartful of Stock-Aitken-Watermans, and packs an infinitely less degradable trash-by date. 

 She droodles with the Roy Orbisong “Crying” between numbers, and passes on useful tips grabbed from breakfast TV’s she’s glimpsed in flashes from tour hotels – like ‘shave upwards to avoid spots’. And for every lyrically dense surrealist flourish (‘let the grass around him, scream the sound’) there’s the irresistible melodic beauty of a “Sighing Innocence”, or Helen O’Hara plucking strings over the Korg Oboe seepage of a “Twist In My Sobriety” that even Liza-with-a-‘Z’ plus Pet Shop Boys couldn’t louse up… 

Two hours and counting. Tanettes and Tikheads go away value for moneyed. 

All good children need travelling shoes. 

The pa plays out with the ‘Coronation Street’ TV-soap theme, another Tanita Tikaram joke. 

No goddess of gloom, she. 


 CD review of: 
(March 1992, Warner East West 9031-76427-2)

Jack Dee describes the kind of morning when your worst nightmares come real and you face the dread existential meaninglessness of all things – you burn the toast, the muesli pack rips apart as you open it, showering the carpet with a dandruff fall-out… 

…and then the radio plays a Tanita Tikaram record! 

Twenty-two years old, just into her fourth album, and already Ms Tikaram has usurped Leonard Cohen’s role as comedian’s punch-line. The drone that’s synonymous with melancholia bordering on manic depression. The title of that number four, borrowed from Richard Yates book of short stories, does nothing to discourage the impression. The lyrics are as elliptical, as sound-as-profound ‘if only you could decipher them’ as ever. Yet there’s nothing here quite as melodically luminous as “Twist In My Sobriety”, “Good Tradition” or “Cathedral Song” to rearrange such preconceptions. But while Tanita hasn’t gone to the extremes of – say, Kirsty MacColl who brought in a Rap Crew, and while she hasn’t included a C&C Music Factory Dance Remix, there are sufficient format variations here to suggest impressive evolutions. 

The long rich lines of her recent single “You Make The Whole World Cry”, the reflective sexual politics of “Men And Women”, and the glistening percussive colourations of “Love Don’t Need No Tyranny” are located well within her expected soundscape. But she’s noticeably ditched two of her long-time collaborators. Violinist Helen (Dexy’s Midnight Runners) O’Hara has gone, as has erstwhile producer Rod (“God Gave Rock And Roll To You”) Argent, although he guests once on keyboards. Producing herself for the first time Tanita achieves a sharper, tighter, more integrated group sound, Nic France’s drums are crisper and more up-front, exorcising Argent’s over-indulgent tendency to seam-free lushness, replacing it with attractively roughened edges. While her already mannered vocal delivery and phrasing get exaggerated into even more extreme positions. “Heal You” and the Blues-inflected “Any Reason” become slurred and pliable, electro-jolting alternating currents of charm and attack. But the album’s most bizarre excursion, “Elephant”, lurches and plods unpredictably, its sobriety decisively twisted from sudden emphasis to effects that sound alarmingly like the pachyderm equivalent of the death-rattle of a washing-machine not covered by an extended warranty. 

“To Drink A Rainbow” was sparked by a visit to Disney’s ‘Fantasia’ (1940), but Tanita’s is still an insular world, hermetically self-contained. She’s never going to cavort with Wonder Stuff on ‘Top Of The Pops’ like Kirsty MacColl, but while the likes of Jack Dee helps maintain her public profile as the Princess Of Pain, the assurance and greater willingness to bend the formula evidenced here shows there’s more to Tanita Tikaram than that image suggests. 

‘You Make The Whole World Cry’
‘I Grant You’
‘Heal You’
‘To Drink The Rainbow’
‘Out On The Town’
‘Hot Stones’
‘Men And Women’
‘Any Reason’
‘Love Don’t Need No Tyranny’
‘The Way That I Want You’

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