The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Monday, July 16, 2007

Lows and Highs with Sara Jane Morris

By Tamara Lee

Friday night, I went up to a local hotspot, Rime, where the food is a little mediocre and the wine is served just a touch too warm, but there’s often a good live show to tame any tempers ready to ignite.

This particular night did not disappoint.

After a so-so snack of mezes and mojitos, my friend and I settled into our seats only half-expecting to be fully entertained.

Tucked in between two acoustic guitar-playing brothers, Neill and Calum McColl, sons of the late great singer/songwriter/activist Ewan McColl, was Sara Jane Morris. Some of you oldsters (and youngsters dipping into the ‘80s music vault) will remember her as the female voice on the Communards’ big hit cover, Don’t Leave Me This Way.

These days, Morris doesn’t just sing, she emotes and acts and story-tells and jokes. She uses her body, her face, her hands to get the tale across (‘Imagine a song sung from a prison cell, by a woman who has just murdered her lover, after catching him in bed with her best friend, but he’s dressed like the scorned woman… It’s a London thing’).

Her range is something like four octaves, reaching lows that only her didgeridoo-playing husband David Coulter (Tom Waits, Marc Ribot, Kronos Quartet) might reach, and highs that rally, well, Jimmy Sommerville. That she didn’t get to play Janis Joplin in the biopic that was never released (the role was foolishly given to Renee Zelweiger) exemplifies the depth of the fickle nature of the entertainment industry. The execs-that-be obviously had not heard Sara Jane's loose and lovely rendition of Piece of my Heart.

We were treated to two solid acoustic sets of songs from her 25-year repertoire, opening with a Nick Cave cover, making their way through blues, ballads, folk, jazz and R&B, covers and originals, and ending with the Communards hit (unintentionally, because the much-jet-lagged trio caught the giggles and couldn’t make it through their earlier attempt). It was a catchy sort of bosa-nova version. For an encore, she sang Ewan McColl's The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, and though I'm not fond of the song, the way Ms Morris sings it, I couldn't help but pay attention.

But it's a funny thing when the musicians who sang the disco hits return to play the Folk or Jazz Festival; going from black-and-white suspenders and pill-box hats to layers of paisley cotton. It reminds you where you've come from, and that's not always a good feeling.

So, although this intimate affair was a precursor to the full-band gigs she was meant to play at the Folk Festival later on the weekend, I think seeing her in such a small venue allowed us to appreciate more how beautifully she and her voice have aged.

And for those few hours, we could pretend we too had aged with grace.


(image courtesy of n16)

5 Comments:

Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

I'll check her out! Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm with us, Tamara!

Mon Jul 16, 08:33:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Chumplet said...

Okay, this is spooky. I had Piece of My Heart running through my head all morning, and then I checked this blog.

I think I'd better go buy a lottery ticket this week.

I once sat with some friends on Queen Street West, listening to Diane Heatherington. She went for a break and Bob Segerini came on stage for a little jamming. He looked directly at me and asked if I was Oriental (I'm not, but I'm part Mik'Maq). I said no, and he told me I had the most amazing eyes. Good thing it was dark because I blushed and said, "Thank you... I think."

I really miss those days of sitting in those little dives downtown, listening to good jazz.

Mon Jul 16, 02:24:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

Thanks for reading, you two.

Yes, Andrew, I am fairly certain you will like her.

Chumplet, I say you need to make a night of it! Treat yourself to the things you miss; there must be good place to try where you're living now.

I think I'd wither away if I didn't get some doses of live music every now and then :)

Mon Jul 16, 03:19:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Chumplet said...

I'm not that far from the city. Contrary to my misleading post, I do get out once in a while!

Mon Jul 16, 10:22:00 pm GMT-4  
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