“Good lord, can you believe that song is old enough to drink now?” – just one of a running stream of comedy gold nuggets offered by KT Tunstall as she celebrates the completion of her trilogy of L.P.s which kicked off with 2016’s Kin, continued with 2018’s Wax and was finally closed out post-pandemic with last year’s Nut. But the drinking age reference is to the almost two decades that have passed since Tunstall gained attention and her breakthrough hit Black Horse And The Cherry Tree made significant chart noise on both sides of the Atlantic following a spellbinding solo performance with her now famous loop pedal on Later… With Jools Holland. Tonight’s demographic at the London leg of her UK tour (yours truly included) certainly seems to suggest that we’ve all been along for the ride since that day!
“Are you ready for some new tunes?” Tunstall asks of her audience immediately after stepping onto stage and reaching her mic, cheers screamed in response as her high-energy set kicks off with Cathy Dennis-co-written Nut single I Am The Pilot, the Scotswoman playing an acoustic guitar and stood next to a drum which she proceeds to beat for a time before pulling funny faces and discarding her drumstick into the crowd.
Alluding to social distancing required during the COVID-19 pandemic, Tunstall says “On this next song, I’m campaigning on this tour that when you meet a new sexy person, don’t bother with the six month period of pretending to be cool”, introducing Nut cut Dear Shadow. The 47-year-old then takes time out to thank co-writer and “one of the coolest songwriters of all time” Cathy Dennis (in attendance tonight) by blending in lines from other Dennis-penned hits: Can’t Get You Out Of My Head and Toxic, made huge by Kylie and Britney Spears respectively, the calibre of songwriting on offer shining through.
“Shall we have an old song?” she asks, to huge cheers. “New is always exciting but old is so comfortable”, chuckles rippling across the crowd as the opening chords of debut record tune Other Side Of The World are strummed. “You must pay me in phone torch!” Tunstall demands for the tune, to which Shepherd’s Bush duly oblige, the song reminding us just why we fell in love with her music on first listen in the first place so many moons ago. Referring to the song she says: “London, keep it local. Don’t do long-distance relationships. That’s one thing you learn as an old person” before offering to end such relationships for any of tonight’s concert-goers “it’ll be like an event”, she continues. And it is that chat and humour that has been so customary at Tunstall’s shows over the decades that adds an endearing dimension.
The crowd are encouraged to clap along for sixth record Wax lead single The River, the bouncing tune underpinned with repeated, minimalist synth notes, adding a dimension that extends beyond strummed guitars and storming drums, courtesy of Razorlight and We Are Scientists drummer (and tonight’s opening act) Andy Burrows.
“Who fancies a song about Stevie Nicks?” Tunstall asks. “People say: don’t meet your heroes. Does not apply to Stevie Nicks” she continues before the rousing 1980s-esque synth intro to Nut song Demigod kicks off the ode. Delicious electric guitars, rousing bass from Gorillaz man Seye Adelekan and a chorus reminiscent of Talking Heads hit Once In A Lifetime lift the tune off the stage.
Tunstall introduces Private Eyes as a song about attending a celebrity party in London early in her career and having to deal with a “well-known actress I will not name” who was trying to evade the paparazzi. Another humorous anecdote that endears the singer to her audience just that little bit more and allows us to connect with her music on a different level, before her signature storming, strummed acoustic guitar rhythm drives the new album cut, the bandleader making the most of any vocal breaks to take her guitar as close to her audience as the low stage will allow.
“One of my absolute favourite parts of this job is making music videos, they’re always mental” she explains, describing the coup of securing Spice Girl Melanie C to star alongside her in the music video for Hard Girls, the only cut from 2016 record Kin aired tonight. “Just imagine her, zipped up!” she yells as Burrows kicks off the tune’s driving beat.
Burrows, Adelekan and additional guitarist Stu Wilkinson depart the stage “give it up for the boys” Tunstall yells as she steps forward to perform a solo rendition of delicate Eye To The Telescope cut Under The Weather, muddling the tune’s words, resulting in unplanned laughs from the crowd but winning them over as “London” and “Shepherd’s Bush” are worked into the song’s lyrics.
KT Tunstall @ Shepherd's Bush Empire
Describing starting her career busking, she addresses the Scots in the audience: “Do not busk in Dundee. Ever. It just doesn’t work”. She then describes the pride of releasing Nut given it was produced during lockdown and involved cross-continent remote collaboration, including with drummer Andy Burrows. “It’s amazing because I never finish anything and I managed to finish a trilogy”, referring to Nut being the third of three records with each part of the trilogy relating to the three existential parts of ourselves; Kin = Spirit, Wax = Body, and Nut = Mind. Three re-introduces Burrows and Adelekan to the stage, the three musicians playing softly, lined up along the front edge of the stage.
“We have a special guest!” Tunstall states, whoops rippling out across the crowd. “We are all so completely over excited we might wet our pants” she jests, introducing Australian Torn-hitmaker Natalie Imbruglia to the stage. The pair air a rendition of their co-written tune Nothing Missing from Imbruglia’s 2021 record Firebird. But the cheering and singing-along extends to the next level as Imbruglia’s breakthrough 1997 hit Torn is aired.
But it is Tunstall’s own breakthrough hit, Black Horse And The Cherry Tree that gets the biggest cheer of the night so far, the singer taking her full-band tour opportunity to do away with the track’s customary loop pedal in favour of live instrumentation. “The funny thing about this tour is that a certain piece of Taiwanese technology stayed at home” she offers. “It’s only right to see whether humans are as good as machines”, the high-energy tune allowing the band to transition back into their full-band positions.
“The unofficial Queen of Scotland is going to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” Tunstall states part-way through her first hit, transitioning the tune into a rendition of The Eurythmics’ hit Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) in honour of Annie Lennox.
“Have we got any old ravers in the house?” Tunstall asks, before shouting out to her brother in the crowd who has chosen an opportune moment to visit the facilities. “The bounce” dance move is demonstrated and taught to the crowd ahead of being put to use during Tiger Suit single Push That Knot Away, the crowd obliging (of course).
Nut song All The Time slows things down for a time “we’re going to play you some love songs” Tunstall introduces, the new album cut giving way to softly-sung Wax song Tiny Love, the tune allowing the singer to reach high notes uncommon to her otherwise standard rock-growl-accented vocal. Debut record fan favourite Heal Over is offered an outing next before she shares “falling in love is good for songs for me”, the fast-paced Synapse a demonstration of the fact.
Sophomore record single Saving My Face has Tunstall trading her trusty acoustic guitar for an electric instrument, before the main set is closed out with new album lead single Canyons. “This game is called: ‘is this the last song?’. It’s genuinely up to you because if you leave, so will we!” her dry wit carrying through the show.
Following a brief departure, the four musicians return to the Shepherd’s Bush Stage. “You stayed!” Tunstall exclaims in feigned surprise before Burrows’ driving beat kicks off new album cut Out Of Touch, closed out with a short rendition of Brain In A Jar, allowing her to claim having played the new record in full tonight. But it is tonight’s closer that her fans have been waiting (and screaming all night) for: the star’s biggest hit to date, debut record and Ivor Novello Award-winning tune Suddenly I See.
Tonight demonstrates just what an incredible talent Tunstall is, a star leaning not just on the hits that shot her to stardom but constantly iterating, finding new paths to creating music that resonates in 2023. Tonight is also a reminder of how a unique personality like hers can enrich the live experience, her running commentary of humorous anecdotes as much a part of her shows as the music and something that pulls her apart from others.
KT Tunstall continues her Nut tour through March with shows in Guilford, Nottingham, Gateshead, Aberdeen and Edinburgh before closing out at Glasgow’s SEC Armadillo on 17th March.
Live review and photography of KT Tunstall@ Shepherd’s Bush Empire by Kalpesh Patel on 7th March 2023