Perhaps peforming solo wasn't the best idea, but the chanteuse still draws the crowds
When KT Tunstall is filling out her tax return form, you imagine she probably enters her occupation as 'artist' rather than 'musician'.
The Scots-Chinese-Irish 36-year-old clearly fancies herself in the same league as Patti Smith or PJ Harvey, instead of just some kooky warbler who penned a couple of decent tunes and got lucky on Jools Holland.
It’s our fault for encouraging her. A thousand people have coughed up £22.50 to see her solo show tonight at the Ulster Hall as part of the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's. This would be fair enough, if she didn’t act like some lowly troubadour who had just wandered in from the street.
The disingenuousness is grating. She says she only had two piano lessons and isn’t very good, then tinkles the ivories with aplomb. She opens with a new song, ‘Crows’ saying: ‘It can only go uphill from here.’ God forbid if anyone were to actually agree.
Tunstall’s memory isn’t up to scratch, either. She apologises for not having visited Belfast in five years – yet it’s actually only three since her support slot to the Police at Stormont.
But, hey – this isn’t a character assassination. Musically, most of the gig is actually very good.
Tunstall, who usually appears with a four-piece backing band including her drummer-cum-husband Luke Bullen, is alone on stage apart from a series of acoustic guitars, a grand piano and a loop pedal. She employs the latter to impressive effect, conjuring up beats, backing vocals, finger-clicks and handclaps.
And at least she isn’t one of these 'artists' who refuse to play the songs people want to hear. Stripped-down renditions of ‘Other Side of the World’, ‘Black Horse and the Cherry Tree’ and ‘Suddenly I See’ are duly dispatched, and entertaining they all are too.
There are also some alright-sounding tracks from Tunstall’s new, home-recorded Scarlet Tulip EP, available exclusively at gigs on this tour. ‘It’s just music in some card,’ witters the star – ‘no barcodes, no logos.’ I bet it’s not free, though.
She does like to talk, our KT. Between numbers, there are anecdotes about everything from having a guitar made from a whisky barrel to writing songs in the Arctic Circle and seeing sperm whales in New Zealand. It’s interesting stuff on the face of it, but delivered with an air of entitlement that makes Tunstall difficult to warm to.
On top of that – and this is no fault of the singer’s – it’s hard to hear much of what she is saying, as this writer has the misfortune of sitting in front of a pair of women who greet every introductory pluck of Tunstall’s guitar strings with, ‘Och, I love this wee song,’ and then spend the duration gibbering loudly.
On a technical level, Tunstall’s solo adventure is a success, but with the set lasting little over an hour and a lot of that being chit-chat, it’s hard to shake the feeling you’ve been cheated. Next time, hopefully, KT will play longer and bring the band with her.