King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow
As the voice and face of Tricky’s highest quality output, the real surprise is that it has taken Martina Topley-Bird so long to launch a solo career. She last appeared on a Tricky album in 1998, her personal relationship with him ended two years before that.
However, the years in the making have actually served only to increase the impact of both her debut album, “Quixotic,” which was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize the day after its release, and her first solo shows, which position her as part of a ten piece band.
If such a strategy failed, it would swamp and disguise the effortless quality of her voice, but the understated nature of much of the show serves rather to enhance rather than detract from its main focal point.
Indeed the strength of Topley-Bird’s voice, which is the midway point between Billie Holliday and Roberta Flack, is in its restraint; the strength of the music in the way it comfortably transcends genres.
“Ragga” – the one track on the album which features a collaboration with Tricky is the only throw-back to trip-hop. “Soul Food” is a beautiful, understated Stax style ballad, which has an atypically upbeat lyric. While much of the set trawls the depths of various relationships, the gospel vocals and “I’m gonna show you where the good time starts” motif seems almost incongruously optimistic.
Elsewhere, treated vocals and a surplus of percussion venture into the territory Tom Waits explored around the time of his “Big Time” live album, though “I Wanna Be There” is a venture into more uncomplicated rock territory.
Taken over an hour, it is a dense and not always easy performance by someone who has made a string of brave artistic decisions. Her use of her voice as an instrument is astonishing, and on this evidence, coupled with the lack of appealing alternatives, it may be worth a bet on that Mercury prize.