LIVE: Natalie McCool @ the Castle Hotel


Natalie McCool is one of the best emerging songwriters around. What does that mean? Emerging from where? The great songwriting nursery nest way out yonder? If that is the case then this December at The Castle Hotel, McCool appears fully fledged. On before Liverpool’s most aptly named Songwriter were an odd couple of support bands.

The first was The Lilacs. Four very young faces played a set of Trilby Indie tunes, fortunately sans trilbies. The audience became a bit of a family affair and the band goes down well. A couple of their tunes are really well-formed pop songs, in particular, ‘Vicarage Road’, which had some proud fathers in amongst the innumerable drips and leaks from the castle’s rather wonderful upturned hull of a roof. The Lilacs are a very accomplished group and given they are right in the midst of their salad days, should only improve with time.

Little Thief, all the way from Bristol, were an unusual fit for the night. the three piece playing a set of whiskey bar rock and anti hallmark love songs. Little Thief has a really nice Middle America tone to their sound, with Charlie Fitzgerald’s soulful voice and Drummer Rhi Williams with the harmonies and the occasional duet.  Little Thief get a little carried away at times, with some behind the head bass guitar work that no one wants to see, especially not on a Monday. Other than drifting into some rather hair metal antics, the band plays a solid set, the Black Keys-esque ‘Freak’ being something of a highlight.

McCool takes to the stage alone. She is the authority in the room, all in white, like a cosmic sheriff, if it was an eternal Seventies in space (one assumes it is). Natalie confesses a certain estrangement to playing without a band behind her but a certain sign of a great songwriter is the adaptability of a song. Opening with ‘Pins’, a minimal track as it appears on ‘The Great Unknown’ anyway, it is beautiful when stripped back to just voice and guitar, and aptly piercing. Likewise, a personal favourite from the album ‘Dig It Out’, without the rolling drum machine patterns becomes a wondrous hovering seascape of a song at The Castle.

McCool is a performer hardened by her European touring exploits and commandeers the complete attention of her audience as she delves into some of her newer material.  These songs are heartfelt, and Natalie confesses to the personal aspect of them herself. The slow and simple rendition of ‘Devils’ is a standout moment on the night. It is a rarity for a young songwriter to have a great enough grasp of their craft to keep a song simple and retain its flavor but McCool does this. The maturity of her latest work is very apparent. Even more impressive is the ease and stylishness of delivery. At times onstage at The Castle, McCool is reminiscent of, and whisper it, the great John Martyn. Natalie McCool was really astounding on the night, and with the material for the next album sounding that good live, it will be eagerly anticipated. A great talent for the North West.

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