Wapentake, Leeds // Wednesday, June 8
Wapentake is a delightful hidden gem of a bar/bakery/coffee shop and now music venue tucked away behind the city’s Corn Exchange. It has such a charming, personal feel to it, it’s the perfect setting for tonight’s intimate set from Birmingham singer-songwriter CLARE MAGUIRE.
Out and about around the UK with in-store appearances and signing sessions promoting her new album Stranger Things Have Happened, Clare has arrived back in Leeds after five years away with a fresh collection of woozy piano-led folk-pop tunes to delight the small crowd gathered around a tatty but finely-tuned piano.
The fact that she’s decidedly dressed down for the occasion – grey tee, jeans and scruffy Sambas – makes this less of an event, more of a friendly get-together. Yet it’s the starkness in her songs lyrics which turn this gathering into confessional.
Addressing her struggles with addiction, loneliness, hopelessness and heartbreak, Clare’s voice is so soulful and pure, accompanied by pianist Sam Beste (who played with Amy Winehouse).
Elizabeth Taylor, the first single from the album, is a stirring, soaring ballad, hinting at the veiled struggles she’s faced over the last few years. “I’ve loved, I’ve lost and loved again, but here I am. Another lesson learned,” she rallies, her voice filling her modest surroundings.
The dark and gentle Falling Leaves unfurls with mesmerising soul. The spacious piano strikes leave plenty of room for Clare’s undulating delivery to swell from delicate and fragile to bold and arresting.
This unadorned, stripped-back approach seems like it could tear open old wounds, but the honesty on display tonight is healing, a powerful radiation of positivity bursting from the bittersweet songs.
Between tunes, she’s self-effacing and slightly disparaging, happy enough to brand herself a loser when she spills soda water down her t-shirt as a joyous, booming cackle of a laugh which defies her beautiful singing voice pierces the attentive atmosphere.
After her six-song set, she spends ages chatting to her fans around Wapentake. The gratitude Clare has for her fans being so loyal is clearly genuine. She talks to them like old friends, sharing stories with that insanely infectious laugh filling the air every now and again.
Like the brooding soundscape she’s created on Stranger Things Have Happened, the light pouring from her darkness is conspicuous and captivating. Rarely a more sincere, straightforward pop star have we encountered, and her willingness to open up about addiction and mental health so matter-of-factly is refreshing and much-needed.
She tells us she’ll be back on tour in October and a return to Leeds is definitely on the cards. We can’t wait to welcome her back.
Stranger Things Have Happened is out now on EMI.