Red Sky July’s now legendary Christmas show at London’s Green Note had an air of added anticipation about it this year as the North London trio’s long awaited next album, “Parallell Universe”, is finally touted for release in early 2020. Would the sold out venue get to hear any new material from the alt country/americana group?
And surely enough, among favourites from the band’s back catalogue which dates from 2011, and some fabulous covers which naturally included some festive choices , we were treated to several new songs from these talented artists. Perfectionists as always, arrangements and tempos for the album versions are still apparently being tweaked but to my mind these newbies are some of their best work to date. I particularly loved “Platform 5” (who’d have thought that Willesden Junction railway station would inspire such a beautiful song? ) and “Til The Stars Turn Cold”, a very relatable write about never letting feelings about an ex die, despite being happy in a new relationship. Lyrically, “Misty Morning” which was referred to as their “sexy song” was particularly memorable with lines like “You’re the man I call when the bottle breaks, when the hazy gin eyes see nothing straight”. I can’t wait to hear the final studio versions of all the album’s songs I had the pleasure of hearing showcased in stripped back form.
Throughout the evening it was, as always, the trio’s two female lead vocalists who took control of the announcements and fun chit chat, their fantastic lead guitarist Ally Mcerlaine taking a back seat in this respect but of course providing some stunning solos (which are apparently “all over” the new album)… oh, and piping up with occasional very witty comments when he was able to get a word in! With the departure of Charity Hair (who has returned to live Stateside with her family, to quote Shelly “ to be a soccer mom”!) Shelly Poole (Ally’s wife) is now joined by her long time friend and collaborator Haley Glennis-Smith… one of the new songs we heard, “Louise”, came out of one of their cowrites from 15 years ago ! As much as I loved Hailey’s predecessor of course, this incredible singer/songwriter/multi instrumentalist has given the band wider scope in every respect in my opinion. I have seen her play keyboard with them in the past but last night she showcased her prowess on acoustic guitar, with Shelly largely playing gorgeous electric mandolin and adding percussion but also picking up her guitar for a few numbers. The ladies have a great rapport and their harmonies were always spot on. Both are also impressive lead vocalists, their different tones and ranges complementing each other perfectly.
Christmas covers (both very different stylistically!) bookended their two sets, with Joni Mitchell’s beautiful song “River” at the start and Wham’s “Last Christmas” being the fun singalong closer. Other covers include Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” which got a delicate, stripped back treatment , “White Christmas” which included one of Ally’s jaw dropping solos, and just 6 of the apparently 305 verses of a folk song from the 1800’s which was a tale of curses and the birth of a baby son among other things… yes, a real variety all given the inimitable Red Sky July treatment!
Established favourites from their past albums naturally went down well with their loyal fan base, including “Strathconon” (which featured their friend Beth Nielsen Chapman on the album version) “Juanita” and “Already Gone” , plus the impromptu encore song “Loving You’s Easy” which Shelly joked was their attempt at writing a happy song!
Yes, a well rounded setlist and a really fun evening. I can now say that Christmas has officially started!!
Look out for more news about the group’s new album, and related tour, which we’ll let you know about as soon as we can!