Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff, Wed 16 May
Anyone pondering the origins of Annabel Allum’s angst during her opening slot this evening is presumably unaware she has the misfortune to hail from Guildford. Her strong voice and fuzzy guitar will appeal to fans of Waxahatchee, and it’s always a pleasure to watch a performer grow in stature and seize increasing command of the room as their set progresses.
Fremantle, Western Australia might be where Stella Donnelly now calls home, but family ties closer to Cardiff have ensured a partisan entourage tonight, in addition to the sizeable audience who good-naturedly boo her reference to her Swansea roots. She admits to being as surprised as anyone to find herself where she is today; only a year has passed since she recorded an EP in her lounge, stuck a picture of herself eating noodles on the cover, jokily christened it Thrush Metal and put it out on just 30 cassettes. Now it’s set to be re-released by Secretly Canadian and she’s touring the world.
As a sharp, dry-witted Aussie who seemingly emerged from nowhere, skillfully cutting others down to size yet often turning her lyrical scalpel on herself, Donnelly has inevitably garnered comparisons to Courtney Barnett. One song, You Owe Me, deliciously settles scores with a repulsive former boss; another, I Should Have Stayed Home, relives a horrific Tinder date: “He said I was a hipster because I’ve got a fringe and I read books”. Her candor is self-deprecating and comic, rather than confessional or mawkish – see, for instance, Mosquito, a love song that nevertheless references her vibrator. It’s not a track that she’s planning on playing in front of her mamgu at Swansea Grand on the 21st.
Donnelly promises to play one particular song in tune (“I didn’t do it in Wrexham. Fuck ‘em”), and announces her intention to give some much needed exposure to a band little known in the UK by way of introducing a cover of the Beatles’ Across The Universe. Yet it’s for Boys Will Be Boys – the EP track that has attracted the most attention and acclaim – that the evening is most memorable. A searingly serious commentary on the culture of blaming the victims of sexual assault rather than the perpetrators, even among women, it was written in 2016 but could be the anthem of the #metoo movement. Donnelly’s refusal to be silent and determination to confront uncomfortable truths, as well as her general approach to songwriting, mark her out as an artist very much at the right time and in the right place.
words BEN WOOLHEAD