Bristol-based folk singer songwriter Luke Sital-Singh’s second album, Time is a Riddle, was released on May 12th; while the ‘jury’s still out’, he says in Circulation Magazine’s interview with him, the response he’s had so far has been ‘really positive’. This album comes fresh from a break with his label; moving past the politics has enabled him to create an album on his own terms, and its raw power is reflected in his live performance.
Sital-Singh is supported by Ciaran Lavery, whose intense vocals fill the space in the Belgrave Music Hall when they swell. His performance — which is nigh impossible to ignore — draws a crowd that seems as affected by his performance as they are later in the night.
Luke Sital-Singh opens with ‘Cynic’, a song from his new album which was written specifically to open sets, before moving onto ‘Still’, a heartfelt single from 2015 which has now made it onto Time is a Riddle. After this comes ‘Innocence’, where the soulful crescendo of the chorus results in the woman next to me needing to be comforted by her husband, presumably because Sital-Singh has moved her to tears. As Sital-Singh is fond of noting, perhaps in an attempt to preempt any criticism of the atmosphere of his live shows, his music is often “miserable”; always keen to remind us that “this is not a fun night out, don’t pretend”, he’s constantly poking fun at himself. These frequent interjections between songs lighten the mood considerably, and he seems to have a lot of fun interacting with the audience. The blend between the emotional impact of his songs and his humour makes the gig very enjoyable, and while the audience dance no more than the occasional sway, it most certainly is a fun night out.
Moving onto a collection of older songs which begins with ‘Dark’, Sital-Singh switches easily from guitar to piano and back again. The chorus of ‘Dark’ soars, practically begging the audience to sing along under their breath. After bringing the tempo back up slightly with ‘Oh My God’, Sital-Singh performs ‘Bottled Up Tight’, a single from 2014 which starts deceptively gently, but builds and builds to a high which fills the room. After ‘Inaudible Sighs’, he moves back into new territory, with ‘Nowhere’s Home’, ‘Time is a Riddle’, and ‘Killing Me’. Although ‘Killing Me’ was released as a single in January, the other songs are new. Sital-Singh is lucky in that the atmosphere of his gig precludes anything more than the softest of singing along; instead, he sidesteps any less enthusiastic response to these — in comparison to his more well-known songs — with what seems to be his usual dose of good humour by joking about the audience response. ‘Time is a Riddle’ stays pleasingly on the mellow side of miserable, while ‘Killing Me’ strolls easily back into where Sital-Singh seems most comfortable; his voice carries it easily, combining well with the pared back instrumentals.
Finishing with some more of his older tracks, Sital-Singh moves through ‘21st Century Heartbeat’ and a cover of Tom Petty’s ‘American Girl’, before ending with ‘Nothing Stays The Same’. This is his most successful single, and a fabulous peak to end his gig on. Despite the mood of his songs, the audience demands more, and Sital-Singh ends with humorous assurances that there will be more, even though this is “the last song”. His encore consists of more from The Fire Inside, ‘Fail For You’ and ‘Benediction’, an extremely gentle and soulful song to finish on, which rounds the night off.By Yasmin Asif