Pretty much the minute any successful new recording artist releases their debut album, they’re faced with the age-old killer question: “When’s your second album coming out?”. For some, from Terence Trent D’arby to The Stone Roses and The Beta Band, this proves to be an almighty stumbling block.
Salford’s own Ren Harvieu has probably had her fair share of being asked that question. Her first album, Through the Night, was released just over four years ago. She’s built up a loyal and patient fan base, and has continued playing live as work on the follow-up progressed. But this intimate gig, part of the Chorlton Arts Festival, is a bit special. As she announces from the stage, it’s something of a homecoming because she’s recently relocated to London. More to the point, it’s used almost entirely to showcase her new much-awaited material.
Ardent fans will not be disappointed. The new songs are identifiably the work of the same artist as Through the Night: jazz-tinged, minor key snapshots of epic love and heartbreak, with Harvieu’s voice still in soaring, gob-smacking form. It’s entirely fitting that she takes the staged wreathed in blue velvet. But where her debut album was shackled with a glossy production sheen, and most of the material was written by other hands, these new songs, including Last of the Runaways, You Don’t Know Me, Bruises, Trick of the Light and Hello Trouble, have a far more heartfelt emotional heft to them, running the gamut through despairing and defiant to playful. What’s more, they’re seriously tuneful.
These songs all spring from the newly-minted writing partnership of Harvieu and Romeo Stodart of The Magic Numbers. It’s clearly a pairing that works: without being remotely showy, Stodart encourages Harvieu on when she’s uncertain, and for part of the set it’s just the pair of them without a band. A few older sings get an airing – Open Up Your Arms and a stripped-back cover of Springsteen’s I’m on Fire – but most are box-fresh and are being performed here for the very first time. According to Stodart, Hello Trouble was only finished in the early hours of the day of the gig. If it’s a little tentative at times, it’s entirely understandable, but this is a relaxed, sympathetic, home-town audience. At one point, Harvieu asks the crowd if they want to go upbeat or downbeat, and seems genuinely delighted to hear them call “up” – because, as she explains, she’s got used to hearing it pronounced “ap” living in that there London.
The show is rapturously received and, in answer to that key question, Harvieu promises that the next album will be out later this year. If she holds her nerve and makes sure she does these new songs justice, she could be onto a right winner.
Main image by Chris Payne