Craig Austin was on hand at The Green Door Store, Brighton to witness a performance by Cardiff’s very own Charlotte Church.
During the Roman Empire, a slave was employed to run alongside the Emperor and persistently remind him of his fallibility: ‘Remember that you are a human. Remember that you will die. Remember that you are no different from any other citizen’. At the age of just 12, already encumbered by all the riches of the world and a distinguished client list that ran from President to Pope, Charlotte Church had no need for such a slave. She always knew that South Wales would play this role. The ‘Voice of an Angel’ was soon to transform herself into the Queen of Caroline Street and knew all too well that she was only human; she simply set out to become an eminently valuable one.
When Church recently gave evidence at Leveson, a role she clearly relished given the manner in which the Murdoch empire had effectively tried to ‘buy’ her before she’d even hit her teens, she struck a blow on behalf of all those whose families have been treated as collateral damage by the tabloid press. By plainly and calculatingly deconstructing the malicious tactics and subterfuge employed by The Sun and its ilk she also took a stand not just for herself and her parents but for all those whose lives have been tainted or destroyed: the Hillsborough families, striking miners, AIDS victims. It was a devastatingly stellar performance that garnered only a fraction of the coverage it truly deserved and one that put the mealy-mouthed, self-obsessed, ‘woe is me’ cry-baby mewling of Coogan and Grant to shame.
It is a subject she relishes revisiting and it is clearly never too far from her thoughts, as evidenced by this show which forms part of a 20+date trawl around what can only be described as the nation’s ‘toilet venues’. A valiant ‘year zero’ statement of intent sends out the clearest of messages about the path that the Church has chosen to pursue, both artistically and spiritually. Buried beneath the arches of Brighton railway station – an underground gig in the truest sense – The Green Door Store holds little more than 100 or so people and resembles the kind of lock-up garage that might one day find itself the home to a large consignment of knocked-off whisky. An incongruous dust-covered disco-ball observes proceedings from on high, forlornly cursing its misfortune at never having been stationed within a glittering distance of Studio 54.
Joining her band from the ‘wings’ – in this case, a shaky-looking fire exit via the back door of a transit van – to a battery of camera phone commotion, Church, resplendent in boho club-wear and a grown-out platinum rinse, immediately launches into ‘The Rise’; the clarion call of her artistic rebirth, one that shows off the full range of her gifts and raises a fat two fingers to those who have ever doubted the longevity of her towering vocal capacity. The malevolent powers of the British press are never too far from her thoughts, however, and as she spoon-feeds herself honey from a jar that never leaves her side, her newest song ‘Mr The News’ is smilingly dedicated to ‘Mr Murdoch’. Another recent addition to the set-list, ‘Judge From Afar’ – tellingly, ‘the first song I’ve ever written completely on my own’ – is driven by her own torment at the hands of visitors to the Daily Mail’s website and their submissions to its notorious ‘comments’ section – the definitive misogynist shooting gallery. Lazy journalists will no doubt have a field day with the lyrical content of her newest offerings. ‘You want a fight in black and white?’ and recurring mentions of a ‘lying bastard’ will surely (deliberately?) pose more questions than they answer, but given that Charlotte Church no longer plays the game by their shabby rules, it’s a currency that no longer has any tangible value.
Her new material, though conveniently pigeonholed as ‘alt-rock’ by those who have previewed it, ranges from gutter-funk to grunge, by way of Blondie-tinged 70s New York – as exemplified by the exuberant finale of ‘James’. Her band looks and feels like a band, rather than a rag-bag of rent-a-bod drones and when you’re touring venues of such limited refinement it can only help to have a shared sense of siege-camaraderie. ‘We went to the Gourmet Burger place earlier’, Church informs us, grinning at her band-mates; ‘we don’t fuck about’. Revealingly, when Church announces that – like The Clash – she won’t be doing an encore, it’s only because – unlike The Clash – she has no ‘wings’ to wait in.
Unlike the dumbo-storm of Z-list gormlessness that swirls around both her and us, Church knows the true value of what riches and celebrity can buy you in the 21st century; the priceless gifts of freedom, independence and ultimate liberty. It’s hard to say whether her new musical direction will deliver either critical or commercial success; it’s an enormous challenge to reinvent yourself in the prying eyes of a nation that already has you pigeon-holed as either a pre-teen wunderkind or a Saturday night Cardiff booze-hound, but what you can say for sure is that Charlotte Church will remain forever the mistress of her own destiny, the boss of her, the fearer of no-one. The Welsh Boadicea.
To be informed when Charlotte Church performs again click here.
Craig Austin is a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review.