Stella Donnelly – The Hope & Ruin, Brighton – 24th August 2018

Photo by Annie Roberts

Seeing female-fronted bands is, for the most part, a rare treat, same goes for female solo artists. Seeing female bands, with female support, and a female tour manager, is even more so. It shouldn’t be, and some people would think I’m over reacting, but screw them, because I’m not.

As pointed out by Australian singer/songwriter, Stella Donnelly, there’s a tendency for these artists to be categorised as ‘political’, particularly when approaching particular topics, when in reality, to Stella, these ‘heavily political topics’, are “just part of existing”.

So, I had pretty high expectations for her performance at The Hope & Ruin, which she played as part of her European tour of her new album Thrush Metal. They’re easily surpassed. To kick things off, support act Tobey climbed on stage, and looked around a bit until she gauged it was a good time to start. She was sweet, and a little bit awkward (which translated to funny and super endearing), and really grateful to Stella for having her on tour with her.

Tobey’s songs, she confessed, had some pretty bleak content. They gave us snippets of walks around hospital grounds, of her heartbreak and of her solitude. She slipped in a cover of ‘Fireworks’ by Radiator Hospital later on, supposedly giving us a break from sad songs, though I’d beg to differ. However, I like Radiator Hospital, and I really enjoyed the lower notes turning to a whisper. She made it her own.

Then it was Stella’s turn. She’s the centre of the stage, and she’s already chatting away. Her first song, she sings through a grin: “I’ll pretend to be fine, lift my face to the sky”, a lyric that sums her up perfectly. She’s real young, a long way from home, she’s been on tour for a while, and judging by her lyrics, she’s had to deal with some right idiots along the way. My God, though, she has it together. Beyond together. Stella has a kind of confidence way beyond her years. The vibrato in her voice, the fluidity of her movements, it all seemed so well rehearsed, but also completely natural.

She completely dominates the stage. She’s also funny, like, really funny: switched on, self aware, real. A great example of this comes at the end of ‘You Owe Me’, a song about a creepy ex-boss, the track features her going off at him, accusing him of: Wanking over the CCTV”, whilst she pours pints of VB and, to top it off, not paying her. At the end of the song Stella quickly blurts out, “He payed me a week later, I was really dramatic back then”. The crowd breaks out into laughter. We get her; we love her.

One of the heavier topics was that of ‘Boys Will Be Boys’, the song I was most looking forward to hearing live. Stella, equipped only with her guitar and mic, tackles the subject of consent and sexual assault – plus she remembered a content warning. She brings it to life from her friend’s experience, and how her other friends responded to it. She tells us she later got approached about the political nature of this, but says it was never intentionally meant to be so, it was just what happened, this is what makes it so touching, and so great. Along with her other songs, it comes straight from her lived experience, communicated through a capo placed high up, soft plucking, and vocals that cut straight through you.

Both Stella and Tobey were similar, in that each song was a perfectly pitched vignette. Stella’s set, though it didn’t really seem it, was pretty long. That was partly because she took the time to explain each song’s significance (or lack of). Whether it be about Christmas with her racist creep of a relative or a terrible tinder date, it was all broken down in a way that, for the most part, made us laugh. By the end, I felt I knew her personally. Because, I guess, we kind of did. I’d listened to Thrush Metal before seeing her, and, whilst I’d enjoyed it (hence wishing to see her this evening), I’d not appreciated her as much as I definitely should have. She really is a live experience, and I thoroughly recommend seeing her for yourself.

Annie Roberts