Camille O’Sullivan – Changeling: Assembly Rooms, Tuesday 7th August

Camille O’Sullivan is the kind of woman your mother would’ve warned you about if only she’d had the imagination.

On Tuesday night Camille set the newly corporate-bland Assembly Rooms alight with her performance. If an evening of songs by the likes of Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Tom Waits sounds like a gloomfest, then you need to catch this Irish singer’s interpretations of them.

Backed by her superb five-piece band, she took us on an emotional and musical rollercoaster through this dark material. It almost goes without saying that O’Sullivan’s voice is a powerful, versatile instrument, capable of anything she chooses to set it to. Cave’s Red Right Hand rocked out with the band at full throttle; while Dylan’s Don’t think Twice It’s Alright started with just her and fingerpicked guitar, slow burning through the verses until the last verse was a joyous whoop of disdain for the song’s discarded lover, singer and band fully engaged with all guns blazing.

For other performers in the audience, it was a masterclass. Waits’s All the World is Green started with O’Sullivan winking as she pulled herself aboard the perilous-looking swing that formed part of the stage set; by the song’s end though, there were tears in her eyes, and not just hers, as the pathos of the lyrics struck at every beating heart in the auditorium. Jacques Brel’s masterpiece Port of Amsterdam was sung a cappella, delivering a similarly huge emotional punch.

Throughout, the Changeling theme was interwoven with the songs as O’Sullivan worked the hall. A shawl became a scarf became a veil; plastic animals and music boxes were toyed with; at one point she donned a pair of woolly bear ears and a fox mask worn on the back of her head. ‘Second date,’ she told the audience of that outfit. Her banter, seemingly artless, played its part in bringing the moods up and down for the next song: light and shade, soft and brittle, sexy and serene and downright shameless.

At the end of night, the whole hall was singing Cave’s The Ship Song as the band joined hands with her at the front of the stage. One final encore courtesy of Leonard Cohen, and our heroine apologised for keeping us for keeping us so late on a school night. At 12.40, after two electrifying hours, we would have had her singing till the sun came up.


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