Julie Byrne – St. George’s Church, Brighton – 9th June 2018

Photo by Chloe Hashemi

Resident’s number one album last year, as chosen by its staff, was Not Even Happiness, by the American singer/songwriter Julie Byrne. It was her second album, in a slowly gestating career that had been built up in a DIY fashion, by her own hands, so to speak. She even told us mid-way tonight about her very first gig in Brighton, at The Globe pub, with only a handful of chattering punters present, and no PA. In classic needs-must fashion, she slept on the floor of an obliging new friend.

How fortune favours the brave. Through hard work, perseverance, and a look and manner that positively gives off virtues of peace and love, Byrne is basking (and continuously thanking) in this unexpected wave of adulation here tonight. A city that holds a special place now and forever in her heart, and is one of only three dates in the UK this year.

Taking the floor in a long and textured light brown dress, with lit candles adorning the stage, Byrne sets to work with the fingerpicked ‘Sleepwalker’. By the end, there is a big smile, perhaps a mix of joy and relief. She got through it, and it feels like she is on home territory. Joined by her musical collaborators on violin and lap synth, she gently paces her way through a set that includes the fragile ‘Follow My Voice’, so quiet and dreamy you can hear the sounds of cans being cracked open at the bar, cameras clicking and – most incongruously – the abruptness of a sneeze. However, Byrne won’t be put off. After all, she must have endured plenty of noisy gigs in her early days, so she closes her eyes and lets the music take her over. As on the elegant, and wavy dream-folk of ‘Morning Dove’, and the sturdier Bob Dylan-esque textures of ‘Melting Grid’, a song that documents her time touring the Pacific North West, one that was booked by herself, and an important part of her journey to this point, as she tells us in-between songs.

‘Prism Song’, taken from her debut album, is a reminder of the rawer playing and simpler songwriting style of her earlier work, while her take on Jackson Browne’s ‘These Days’ is an interesting one, if a little lost on an audience largely unfamiliar with the work of that peculiarly American songwriter; her voice once again a little reminiscent of a higher register Suzanne Vega. It is then she leads a long instrumental passage, the synth cascading, ambient effects and violin gently swelling, while she eventually makes sounds with her voice, before segueing into the floating finger picked sounds of ‘Sea As It Glides’.

“This is probably the only show I’ll ever do in an active crematorium,” laughs Byrne as she orders the lights to be dimmed for ‘I Live Now As A Singer’, her voice faintly cracking up with the emotion of it all. Yes, it was a big night here, one she said she had been anticipating for quite some time. As she sings on ‘Sleepwalking’: “I lived my life alone before you / And with those that I’d never succeeded to love“. Tonight, there’s plenty of reciprocal love in the air.

Jeff Hemmings

Website: juliemariebyrne.com