Hero Worship: Jane Siberry
Jane Siberry was once a big star in Canada but she's never been that famous here, so I often have to explain who the hell my favourite singer-songwriter in the world is.
Usually I say she's like a funnier Kate Bush, or a more feminine Laurie Anderson. But that doesn't sum her up. Her first album, from 1981, sounds like a more playful take on Joni Mitchell's Blue. By 1983 she was making synthpop, sort of. If you ever wondered what a cross between the Associates and The Go Go's would sound like, here's your answer.
Then the songs got longer, multi-layered and cinematic. One of my favourites from that time is The Bird in the Gravel, in which she plays a heartbroken maid, a truck driver, a servant and a kitchen full of noisy cooks (The Fakester Resurrection, a 12 minute, three part song from my band Swimmer One's second album, was very much inspired by it). Then she made country music for a while.
When I first saw her live, in Edinburgh in 2006, she sang a 12-minute musical poem about a surreal forest journey, a 30-second version of What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor, and I Know My Redeemer Liveth by Handel. She was very funny too. "Did you know Britney Spears is an anagram of presbyterians?" is a typical piece of Siberry stage chat.
What’s consistent through all this very different music is a style of delivery that is somehow whimsical, knowing, flippant, and heartwrenching at the same time. Her songs recognise that you can feel all kinds of emotions simultaneously.
A couple of years ago Jane played a gig in a flat in Portobello, and I got to introduce her, which was quite a thrill. Jane was (and still is) touring the world playing gigs in small, unusual venues, all organised by fans. She had, not long before this, sold all her possessions and taken to wandering the world trying to 'follow the natural lines of energy flow.'
This will sound bonkers to some people, and possibly is. Certainly, her Portobello show was more performance art than gig. She told dreamlike stories, one fragment at a time, stopped songs half way through to go off on rambling tangents about temples, and had conversations with an imaginary dog. But it was one of the loveliest gigs I've ever attended. Afterwards everyone ate cheese and biscuits in the kitchen.