Tuesday night was almost rain free – that’s saying something for this washout of an English summer which has so far plunged festivals and outdoor events into a maelstrom of mud and near bankruptcy. So it was a pleasant experience to sit on dry paving stones in the courtyard of Somerset House, drinking a ubiquitous Kopparberg cider, watching the purple lighting gather potency as dusk settled, bathing the Neoclassical architecture in its mauve neon glow.
Paloma Faith is appearing for two nights here at Somerset House. I’ve managed to catch her on festival stages and when she joined Candi Staton on stage at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival but this is the first time I’ve seen her as star of the show.
The auditorium seems to be overwhelmingly packed with women, plus a few loved-up couples and some tourists. Seye Adelekan, who used to be a guitarist with Paloma, is performing tonight with his band as the support. As we wait for her to appear, a rain shower descends upon us, and in the midst of this, Paloma makes her entrance. She is, as always, extravagantly, theatrically dressed, this time in a long, slinky vintage dress. She launches into When You’re Gone, a powerful, soulful track from her new album Fall to Grace. Commanding the stage, Paloma clearly relishes the opportunity to engage with the crowd between every number, sharing experiences of life and love, and encouraging us to sing and applaud.
The set is a mix of old and new numbers, with the most popular tracks from the first album Do You Want the Truth or Something Beautiful? sprinkled sparsely among the more reflective and personal songs about love which permeate the new album. Around five songs into the set, Paloma sings Upside Down, something those unfamiliar with her new material all know, and there’s a general sense of the crowd warming up and enjoying themselves.
Paloma delivers an amusing, surprise number called Cellulite, a no-holds barred celebration of our wobbly bits. By way of introduction, she turns around, slides her dress up and gives us a demo of her own wobbly bits, although cellulite and excess flesh are far from Paloma’s problems. She asks us to accept, nay love our bingo wings and dimpled thighs, and shake it all in time to the next song. The women in the audience are lapping up ever word, hugging each other and singing along, perhaps Paloma will find herself a place as a singer of “I Will Survive” style anthems for female solidarity.
The familiar piano intro of New York kicks off, but the song feels disappointingly short, a reminder that new material is taking centre stage. For encores, Paloma calls audience onto the stage to dance to Freedom with her. Her current single Picking up the Pieces is a fitting end, with gusts of confetti showering down in the now, thankfully dry, summer evening.