Neneh Cherry // Live Review & Photoset

17th February | SWX

Photos: Jeff Oram

“Hello, friends and family,” says Neneh Cherry on taking the SWX stage in front of a packed audience all here to see the woman with the Bristol connections.

Former Rip Rig & Panic singer, Massive Attack and Bristol underground collaborator, Cherry’s link with this city is a warm, personal one and tonight her between song patter and the genuine response it gets reflects that.

There are nods and loving jokey asides to old friends in the crowd, and at one stage she gives long praise to those connections, at the end of which someone from stage front throws her an Easton Cowboys football scarf, which she wears proudly while delivering the funky hip hop/dancehall dub/jazz throb of ‘Natural Skin Deep’, klaxon horns and marimbas lifting over our heads.

Along with eight other numbers this comes from her latest album, Broken Politics, which makes up most of the set. Joined by husband, co-writer and producer – of Massive Attack’s Blue Lines as well – Cameron McVey, marimbas, harp, laptops and various percussion build up and colour the trip-hoppy, funky soulful soundscapes around her.

Cherry has always had an eclectic approach to her music, coming as she does from the musical legacies of her birth father, musician Ahmadu Jah, and stepfather, the late great jazz trumpeter, Don Cherry. Her brother is alt-rocker Eagle Eye and daughter young dance-pop star Mabel. Her styles veer from the contours of trip-hop to the mellowness of soul and the stridence of funk and R&B. She delivers it in her own unique soft/sassy way, wandering the stage with a detached unself-consciousness. A stab of the Last Poets ‘Blessed Are Those Who Struggle’ (‘Poem Daddy’ from the album) links numbers at one point.

Broken Politics is produced by electronic music pioneer, Four Tet, offering a reflective commentary on the personal, on gun control and the refugee crisis over a rich canvas of beats. The wistful ‘Fallen Leaves’ and the unfortunately uninspiring ‘Shot Gun Shack’ opens tonight before the trancey, building swoon of ‘Deep Vein Thrombosis’ hits the first spot of the night.

The James Bond-ish intro to ‘Kong’ – co-produced by Massive’s Robert Del Naja – takes us deep into that trip-hop, dubby flavour, before the juxtaposition of ‘Blank Project’ from the 2014 album of the same name – an angular, punky, abrasive drum attack – and back to the present with the dreamy ‘Synchronised Devotion’.

The aching chime and trip-hop pulse of ‘Black Monday’, another song which wouldn’t look out of place on a Massive album, follows before the superb aforementioned ‘Natural Skin Deep’, and then of course one of her hits from her debut 1989 Raw Like Sushi album, ‘Manchild’ (which Del Naja also co-wrote…). We’re on a roll now, and the set ends with ‘Soldier’, one of the strongest tracks on the album, with its tinkling keyboard motif and gradually-building addictive groove.

The encore is inevitable and wildly demanded, and it’s a shame that ‘Faster Than the Truth’’s crescendo is all a bit fuzzy – in fact the sound as a whole isn’t perfect tonight unfortunately – and while hubby Cameron is no Youssou’N’Dour when it comes to the dual singing part with Neneh on ‘7 Seconds’, it passes muster well. She ends with a triumphant hip-hopped up ‘Buffalo Stance’, a raucous celebratory roll back to the 80s with her biggest hit. I mean what else?

See the video for ‘Kong’ here: