Scott Matthews, Emmy The Great

Abigail Outwhaite 08/11/2006

The Union Chapel is an odd venue, to say the least. Buried amidst the townhouses of Highbury and Islington, a stone's throw from the tube station, it is a church-by-day, venue by-night. Complete with no-smoking, no-drinking policy, the chapel encompasses the main stage and pews from which you spectate: it is no scummy back street bar.

Grey-haired, prudish Church volunteers collect your ticket, usher you to empty seats and reinforce the no swearing policy, while amplifiers and instruments are arranged around the altar, fairy lit lecterns looming behind in dead-centre.

The first act of the evening could easily be mistaken for a wayward Sunday school pupil. A pink ribbon ties back a curtain of silky jet hair, her wide eyes peering out into the dark faces of the audience with breathless excitement. White ankle socks are drawn up in delicate silk plimsolls, a prudishly long vintage skirt hangs around her knees, and her cardigan buttons up to her collar bone- a perfect picture of strait-laced, church girl beauty.

But Emmy the Great is no prissy virgin - lines like “I loved you best when love was just a feeling that ran between my legs” illustrate the fast-paced, image-laden and unabashedly sexual nature of her lyrics.

Acoustic guitar in hand, the music is somewhat irrelevant as all attention focuses with eager wonder on the unnervingly honest, tongue-in-cheek lyrics. Modern folk and Bright Eyes-esque in voice, she leads you through matter-of-fact accounts of love, sex, death, friendship and coming-of-age affirmations.

Her emotional involvement in the lyrics becomes unquestionable as she introduces a song about the death of a close friend. “This song is tragic,” she smiles, bittersweet and wry, as your focus is drawn to slight welling in her eyes.

“Some things just never pass…until the time my body leaves I will regret the day you don't breathe,” she sings, dashing away a tear caught by the spotlight. It sounds uncomfortable, but it seems the more sincere her relation to the song, the more refreshing it is, when considering the unbridled sincerity poured into her songs.

Her set is an autobiographical, emotional rollercoaster leaving you harrowed. The stream-of-consciousness narratives linger on your senses as she leaves the stage.

The audience has filed back to their seats from the bar (the only area in which they can congregate between sets to swear, drink and be generally blasphemous), and the interval is over.

“This is weird, innit?”

“Yes, yes it is”, echoes in the minds of every spectator in the chapel.

But the silence is deafening.

Scott Matthews, Wolverhampton singer-songwriter and one of the most talented vocal discoveries of the past few years, shuffles awkwardly about the stage, his lanky frame looming on the back wall in a towering silhouette. With an uneasy smile he takes the seat at the pinnacle of the chapel's vision and begins to play.

Squeaky, rich acoustic guitar fills the dimly-lit hall. Shrouded in darkness, senses become so much more than you'd expect, and the effect is breathtaking, as oaky notes echo off the ceiling. It is not so much a gig, but an experience; in direct contrast to his support act, the emphasis is on the music, the vocals almost irrelevant but for the hauntingly Jeff Buckley-esque wisps hovering about the verses.

The intimacy with which the gig is conducted is surprising. In the middle of one of the most anonymous cities in the world, a sold-out crowd is sharing an experience - the Scott Matthews experience - and it is like nothing else. Ethereal intros accompany foot-tapped rhythm, slurred, almost unintelligible vocals and rain-drop acoustic guitar. American blues and 70s rock simmers carefully with modern folk and something distinctly beautiful and Buckley like, creating an innovative, almost moving sound that reverberates straight along, through and under your skin.