Upstairs in a bar named Gullivers, huddled amongst a bundle of other esteemed musical venues in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, I had the joy of witnessing something really special. New Jersey songstress, Nicole Atkins, was in town and proceeded to unleash some seriously soul-stirring sonics. How they belted against those four walls! Yet, I truly feel the ripples of this music must have swept across the whole city throughout the night. It was that powerful and extraordinary.

I was lucky enough to be standing right underneath Nicole’s pretty nose so this was a really up close and personal affair, but I reckon that intimacy extended throughout the crowd wherever you were positioned. Atkins has a way of creating a sense of close proximity and inclusion which she demonstrates at the very start when to most people’s surprize she begins singing and strumming 'Neptune City' mid-way through her path to the stage. There isn’t a concealed safe passage to the stage for performers here - as is the case in many small venues - but I don’t think in the countless gigs I’ve experienced that I’ve ever seen someone do that so naturally – just stop and start to sing as though walking through her front room. So, she stands encircled by the crowd delivering that bittersweet lament about her home town and everyone seems to instantly fall under her spell.

Once up on the real stage joined by her sensitively attuned guitarist and equally super-synchronized drummer she leaps straight into a set that has everyone drinking up every drop – and those drops feel like the full complement of blood, sweat and tears – not that I saw any blood (thank goodness) but this was a no frills, full steam ahead kind of gig, which is exactly how I like it. Atkins straddles all three of her albums with the emphasis on current record 'Slow Phaser'. She also effortlessly straddles genres - from the magnificent torch song 'The Way it Is' (at the end of which someone hands her a tissue) to the frenetic finale of 'Tower' and the splashes of country, lo-fi and psychedelic rock that colour the canvas in between. She is impossible to pigeon-hole and why would anyone want to? What’s undeniable is the quality of her voice and song-writing. These songs have a timeless, ageless purity about them and stand up pleasingly alongside the couple of cover versions that sit in the set (Lee Hazlewood’s 'My Autumn’s Done Come' and Roy Orbison’s 'Crying') which she pauses to sing on her way to the dressing room post-gig in the same manner she entered.

Clad in a long white flowing gown, Atkins embodied an energy that was reminiscent of Janis Joplin at times, as well as Stevie Nicks and perhaps Florence Welch but she’s one hundred per cent herself and her songbook is nobody else’s second-hand scrapbook…she walks in her own shoes and it’s impossible not to want to walk with her. Having only recently been exposed to her music, I’m stunned that she isn’t more widely known in this country - but since when has ubiquitousness equalled talent?

I couldn’t see Nicole herself through the crowd as she shared this spine-tingling rendition of the Orbison song, but I could see the faces of people in the circle watching and listening. They were clearly swept away, caught up in the simplicity and power of just one woman and acoustic guitar baring her soul. She then slipped away waving goodbye as people left, many looking stunned and rubbing their eyes.


Photos by Melanie Smith
www.mudkissphotography.co.uk


















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Commenting On: Gullivers, Manchester, 16/10/2014 - Nicole Atkins








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22362 Posted By: Mary (Manchester)

Agreed, Chris. I barely made my bus. It's ridiculous that in a city the size of Manchester with such a vibrant music scene it's so difficult to get home afterwards.
Glad you enjoyed the review

22265 Posted By: chris morris (westhoughton)

Its a sad state of affairs when someone has talented has Nicole is not well known. It was a great night and that is a superb review. Shame I missed crying.....the trains out of Manchester are rubbish


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