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Reviews / REVIEW: Tunstall a class act at Clickimin

KT Tunstall was in great voice in Lerwick on Tuesday night. Photo: Shetnews/Kelly Nicolson Riddell

AS  SOON as KT Tunstall bounded on stage just after 9pm and started nattering away to the Clickimin audience like they were old pals, there was no doubt we were in for a feel-good night in the company of a class act.

Islanders snapped up tickets for the show back in May so rapidly that it was upgraded from Mareel to a bigger room across town.

The 41 year old, sporting an eye-catching pair of shiny silver troosers, seemed delighted that Shetland’s love of live music had thwarted her designs on a more intimate show.

New songs from Tunstall's forthcoming album slotted in seamlessly alongside hits such as 'Suddenly I See' and 'Black Horse & the Cherry Tree'. Photo: Shetnews/Kelly Nicolson Riddell

Fife-raised and now LA-based, Tunstall may not have re-scaled the commercial heights of multimillion-selling 2004 debut ‘Eye to the Telescope’. But she continues to play big venues either side of the pond, and a career-spanning 100-minute set on Tuesday night confirmed her status as an excellent writer and singer adept at turning her hand to multiple musical genres.

From the breezy ‘If Only’ onwards, she demonstrated a canny pop-rock sensibility that’s seldom heard on a Shetland stage.

Alongside infectious enthusiasm came plenty of good-natured patter as Tunstall quizzed the natives about Shetland ponies, our eponymous crime drama and how we feel about having been a gift from Norway.

Many live performers are accustomed to new, as-yet-unheard material drawing a muted response, but that was never the case here as she reeled off tracks from her imminent new record.

“Joyful” is how Tunstall describes the 11-track album – out in three weeks – and it’s hard to quibble.

The first newbies, ‘Evil Eye’ and latest single ‘Maybe It’s a Good Thing’, are bouncy, colourful creatures bolstered by a robust, adaptable three-piece backing band, all spearheaded by an effervescent, thoroughly likeable frontwoman.

She can’t half sing, too. It’s refreshing to hear a pop singer using their real voice, her range complemented by a gravelly edge lest the sound ever become too saccharine.

The Tuesday night audience – whose demeanour ranged from stone-cold sober to absolutely smashed – got their phone torchlights out to give a stadium feel during ‘Other Side of the World’, Tunstall’s anthemic warning about the perils of a long-distance relationship.

A personal highlight was her solo spot, including an outing for the gorgeous fingerpicked ‘Invisible Empire’ from her very fine, more rootsy-sounding 2013 album of the same name.

Tunstall's set included a snippet about how her tambourine was stolen, then returned, following a gig in Wick. Photo: Austin Taylor

Tunstall is evidently having a blast jaunting around the Highlands and Islands. The bucolic scenery she would have expected; more surprising was her tambourine going walkabout after a show in Wick. After social media appeals were issued, it turned up – alone in a taxi – at her hotel the following morning!

That spawned song snippet ‘Tambo’, before the bluesy vocals and percussive loops of ‘Black Horse & the Cherry Tree’ (which she memorably wooed us with on Jools Holland way back in 2004), in turn giving way to the White Stripes’ ‘Seven Nation Army’ – the riff, naturally, played on a kazoo as the band kicked back in.

They injected a rockier feel on another new song, ‘Hard Girls’, before Tunstall indulged an American grunge instinct on vibrant set-closer ‘The Healer’. 

Beckoned back for more, by that point one of Scotland’s finest pop voices of the new millennium had the audience in her command.

After a run-through of Simple Minds’ cheesy 80s hit ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’, the capacity crowd enthusiastically joined in on Tunstall’s spirited rendition of her best-known single, ‘Suddenly I See’, and then it was time for everyone to drift happily off into the light August downpour.

Neil Riddell

The gig had to be upgraded to Clickimin from Mareel due to high demand. Photo: Austin Taylor