It’s been nearly three years since I first encountered Mary Erskine’s alter-ego, Me for Queen, and I’ve loosely kept up with her via email, like an unanswered pen-pal; she sends me updates on what’s going on in her world but I am never able to go and see her. Until last night. Finally back in the Oxfordshire neighbourhood, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see this wonderful, talented songstress/musician live again. Oddly enough, the first time I saw her was supporting Lewis and Leigh at St John the Evangelist church on the Iffley Road. The perfect setting for such a unique, clear-cut voice; the acoustics adding to the atmosphere. Last night’s performance was at the Unicorn Theatre in Abingdon. I’m ashamed to say I’ve never visited this stunning monastic building before, despite working over the road for a few years. But I will be back. Who knew there was such a rich vein of history on our doorstep – my husband and I will be visiting the theatre's home, the Abbey Buildings, for a proper snoop around, local tourist-style. There was too much information to take in in the short breaks between our support and main acts. Plus, the bitter cold made my brain malfunction – central heating wasn’t a priority back when these ancient buildings were erected.
Anyway, back to the music. Arriving late, as usual, we managed to catch the last few songs of Me for Queen’s support act, Patrick Griffin. A perfect introduction to our main act, Oxford-based Griffin quotes his influences from a wide catchment area of folk, jazz, soul, blues and pop. With toe-tapping melodies, he had the Abingdon audience getting involved in his performance, and singing along to his catchy tunes.
After a brief intermission where we explored the long gallery and met some lovely locals who welcomed us to their venue, clearly proud of the heritage in the area, Me for Queen was introduced to the stage. Not alone this time, she was joined by Rob the drummer, and while I already considered her live performance to be perfect, Rob added another layer to her music. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I was completely blown away by the set. The programme tells us that she is often likened to Carole King and Regina Spektor with influences ranging (again, widely) from Björk to Chopin. The talent quietly oozes from her pores; this woman has something to say in her lyrics, and she says it in such an honest way, with such poetic clarity that I found myself absolutely mesmerised the entire time. While she could be compared to the above singers and styles of music, I would struggle to compare her style to anyone. With a similar storytelling style in her lyrics to those of Lucy Spraggan and early Kate Nash, they are still very different performers. It was only during the encore that it hit me, the name I had been reaching for throughout. Joni Mitchell. Erskine sang a beautiful Mitchell cover, “Little Green”, unplugged on guitar, and it felt as though the whole theatre was holding their collective breath throughout. Just wonderful.
As a final note, I will be taking Erskine’s advice and going to see more live music this year – artists that I have never heard before, so that I can experience them live and then go and listen to their recorded music and allow my brain to fill in the blanks that only a live show can provide.