Siv Jakobsen (say jay-cob, not yack-ob) describes herself on her T-shirts as ‘Nordic Mellow’ and that pretty well sums up the Norwegian songstress. With so many high profile artists coming out of Norway right now it is easy to forget there are numerous highly capable but not quite so visible folk singer-songwriters there too, of which she is an excellent example.
A graduate of the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, USA, where she underwent a ‘light bulb moment’ and realised she could sing as well write and play, Siv released her debut (and seven-track long) EP, ‘The Lingering’, in 2015 – it was streamed over seven million times – and will drop her debut LP later this year. She has just released a single from it, ‘Like I used to’, which was played in the second half of the set.
Taking to the stage wearing a black dress complementing her long dark hair and playing an acoustic guitar she was joined by two musicians who had flown in from Norway that day for a couple of dates, one here in Manchester (her first ever visit) and one in London (St Pancras Old Church) on 3rd May. She’d also played a solo set at Live at Leeds festival on the Saturday. Her keyboardist, Einar, easily reminded you of Sparks’ Ron Mael from a distance (Sparks remain very popular in Scandinavia!) though he was quite the opposite in temperament.
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Siv Jakobsen sings serious songs mainly in a fragile voice about serious subjects, often oriented towards affairs of the heart. Her equally serious demeanour on stage was somewhat at odds with her delightful violinist, Sophie, whose smile didn’t leave her face throughout the entire performance; and also with Siv’s own character – she’s something of a comedian on the quiet and confidently kept the audience entertained with jokes and observations throughout the show.
Within less than 30 seconds of the first of the nine songs, ‘To Leave You’, her almost operatic pipes came into play for the first time and it was instantly evident to the decent-sized crowd for a Bank Holiday Monday that they were in the presence of a million candlepower floodlight, never mind a light bulb.
Seemingly the three of them had had little previous experience of working together though you wouldn’t know it, Sophie’s violin, in particular, working pleasingly with the guitar while all three harmonised beautifully on ‘Crazy’ (from the forthcoming album).
The audience was largely au fait with her and with her vocal and lyrical style and hugely appreciative of it but to a casual observer if there is perhaps one downside it is that the majority of her songs are minor key mini stories, ebbing and flowing with little variation in their presentation, and most lack a bridge, which would sometimes be welcome. This was most noticeable on the third song, ‘Black & White’, about life in New York, also from the forthcoming album.
Indeed the highlights of the evening for this particular casual observer were ‘Like I Used to’, which had by far the strongest melody of anything played on the night, and closing number ‘Bullet’ (from ‘The Lingering’) in which it wasn’t so much the vocals as the wonderfully syncopated interplay between guitar, keys and violin that grabbed the attention. If she can produce more of both her followers will surely grow rapidly in number.
Many gigs have their oddball moments and in this one it was her freely admitted admiration for Britney Spears, which prompted her to deliver an unrecognisable version of Spears’ six-mile-high club (see the video) ‘Toxic’; a song she’s also recorded. To be honest, it’s taking admiration a step too far, it’s like The Tweets singing Hallelujah (or Cohen singing The Birdie Song). Time to detox Siv, you’re way too good for that.
Support on the night came partly from We Were Strangers, a duo comprising the slightly gravelly voiced Stefan Melbourne and the much softer voiced Chloe Leavers, who perform solely or jointly to Melbourne’s acoustic guitar. The songs are well crafted and they hold the audience’s attention well, (he’s another more than competent comic, it’s almost as if the Frog & Bucket comedy bar just up the road had closed early). If anything they work together better than he does alone as his delivery is perhaps just a little too intense at times, while Chloe’s habit of standing with her hands in pockets might need revisiting. Those minor grumbles aside, they’re a couple well worth seeing.