A hush surmounts the murmuring of an audience waiting in eager anticipation as Roxanne de Bastion skips onto the stage with a beaming ray of sunshine spread across her face in the guise of a sweetly innocent smile. You can tell she has been itching to kick off her album launch tour for her debut LP – ‘Heirlooms and Hearsay’ – as much as we have been twisted in excitement to see her perform. The cosy and hauntingly intimate confines of the Sackler Space within the famous Camden venue is the optimum singer-songwriter gig territory: and, tonight, a space where Roxanne is to begin softly commanding every square inch with her epic lullaby to family history, home and relationships. But first, as a prelude, she opens on stage, solo, with the fan-favour ‘Red and White Blood Cells’. The up-tempo strumming has everyone gently bobbing their feet and heads. We obligingly participate in the chorus backing without needing any encouragement, although Roxanne’s heavenly grin is altogether inviting.
After thanking the crowd, she invites her fellow touring band members onto the stage, although I don’t remember seeing them emerge onstage as it is hard not to be transfixed by the folk singer’s giddy schoolgirl enthusiasm. I am also strangely, in love with her knee-length t-shirt. One, I believe, designed by herself: all black with a white cartoon graphic image of herself on the front. I kind of want one, as it is refreshingly understated from most band or artist apparel which I normally eschew for its gaudiness. I hope it becomes merchandise in the future, but I digress – I warned it was hard not to be intoxicated by her presence on stage.
The Berlin native, and her band, take a different tack to the normal album promo tour as they populate the setlist with the occasional non-album track. ‘Somewhere Upon Avon’, for example, is a track that reminisces over Stratford Upon Avon, where her grandfather resided after fleeing Communist Hungary, following the Second World War, and the birthplace of her father. Like the tracks that reached the album, it is an organic offering, resplendent in beautiful simplicity with uncomplicated lyrics of candid sentiment and sincerity. ‘Some Kind of Creature’ is another rogue on the setlist. Its tone deftly straddles the line between upbeat and contemplative, which makes it a standout track of the gig and one that is particularly well-received by the audience.
A thematic coalescence develops as Roxanne plays tracks from ‘Heirlooms and Hearsay’, so that they become distinct from those occasional non-album treats. Many of the songs from her debut record appear to be elegies to her late grandfather – ‘Run’ being especially moving, the emotion and atmosphere that envelops its performance being augmented by the backstory that Roxanne prefixes, and the solitary tear that glides down her cheek as she tells it. Many of her songs, as the evening trots gracefully along, are accompanied by equally personal revelations. The songs from the album explore familial relationships, family history and touch upon the many places de Bastion calls home. On the latter subject, particular attention is given to her native Berlin, of which ‘Wasteland’ – a lamentation of the destruction of the East Side Gallery portion of the Berlin Wall – seems the most frankly heartfelt and soothing in its delicacy.
Each song, and the way in which de Bastion elegantly performs them, reveal an innocence, akin to a child’s poem, but with the depth and tenderness that can only be conveyed through a life lived and feelings truly felt. Roxanne is delightfully charming and funny throughout the performance; wonderfully engaging with her audience while also replete with anecdotes and amusing tour tales. You’d be forgiven for feeling as if you were alone and on a first date, standing with a glass of wine captivated by a beautiful woman’s captivating persona and fascinating life story.
The set comes to an end with a genuine wail of disappointment from the audience, and de Bastion herself, at how quickly the evening has passed. But we are rewarded for our devotion with an unscheduled encore, but I sense the reward is mutual as, I believe, Roxanne is reluctant to exit the stage as she appears to be enjoying herself so enormously, the smile still painted on her face. She invites requests, but eventually settles on an impromptu acoustic version of Outkast’s ‘Hey Ya!’ Her rendition lends a solemn aura to the original, the lyrics seem clearer and more profound when spoken from her lips to the gentle and soft strumming of her guitar. The crowd join in at the chorus, projecting a still but haunting howl of ‘Heeeeey Yaaaa’, almost like a Pagan incantation. It’s a perfect end to what has been a seductively intimate night of live music. Roxanne now embarks on the rest of her UK album tour, but I can’t help feeling there was something uniquely special, and unable to be replicated, that occurred tonight.