Anna Calvi – Manchester Cathedral: live review

Anna Calvi – Manchester Cathedral
14th November 2011

There’s nothing more popular in the modern music industry than singer-songwriters. Currently there is more than worth counting. But what sets one apart from another? Someone with emotion, someone with unique style, someone who can leave an audience speechless? Anna Calvi played Manchester Cathedral tonight, and showed us exactly why she stands out above others.

The setting tonight is perfect for such an atmospheric songstress and the crowd waits in anticipation waiting for the singer to appear onstage. She walks into the light wearing her trademark red shirt and high heels with her hair slicked back into a ponytail. For this artist it’s clear she has the look, the empowering and dominant look as she towers above the other band members. As she plays the first few notes to the opening track and album opener, ”ËœRider To The Sea’, she grasps the crowd in the palm of her hand, owning and controlling the room. All eyes are on her. Her fingers on the frets are hypnotising as she squeezes and caresses her guitar again and again, not missing a single note.

Anna Calvi has been playing festivals and gigs throughout the summer and now on her UK tour she brings her unique and enchanting style to small arenas across the country. The Cathedral tonight is very dark and atmospheric, leaving a small amount of light on Calvi enough to see the shadows enhance the prominence of her cheekbones. She has an unusual look that captures the heart of the crowd. Even throughout the performance no one speaks a word.

With a voice almost similar pitch to Shirley Bassey, she wails through the operatic anthem, ”ËœSuzanne And I’ failing to strain or even make a mistake with her vocals. She contrasts her style, almost whispering through ”ËœNo More Words’. You could hear a pin drop in the echoey make-shift arena, but all eyes were on Anna whispering seductively into the microphone. Anna Calvi has a rare talent that of an extremely strong operatic style voice, a truly marvellous sound to match the antiquated style and themes of her music. Amongst solos she pushes her voice to the limit, as if to reach out to the back of the hall. Calvi has a unique presence on stage, translating the poetic skills similar to Patti Smith in the style of an established professional vocalist.

Not only does Anna Calvi do a cover of Elvis Presley’s, ”ËœSurrender’, but she also has the facial expressions of a true original rock star, she sneers into the microphone with her lip raised. Perhaps this is coincidental but we’re witnessing a true performer, who uses her whole body as a machine to project her material.

Aside from her vocals, I truly believe that Calvi is the most talented British guitarist in the modern music industry. It’s rare that I’m stunned by such instrumentals, but her skill and emotion applied with it is truly subhuman. She’s totally engrossed in the emotion and her music, mixing soft rhythms with crunching solos similar to that of David Gilmour circa-Meddle. ”ËœLove Won’t Be Leaving’ is played prior to encore and is sure to be the highlight of the set, with at least a minute long solo in the middle in which Calvi shreds and stuns the audience, as she stares towards the roof eyes closed whilst her fingers do the work leaving the crowd screaming and clapping for more.

Her encore of Edith Piaf’s Jezebel is more than appropriate. It leaves me stood there comparing her to other artists. The thing that strikes me about this truly talented woman is that her music is timeless. Unlike female singer-songwriters before her, her music does not belong in a particular era. She’s created this style that will be listened to over and over again for years. She embodies everything innovative and professional about an artist, I believe she’s one of the only truly original and awe-inspiring solo artists in the music industry today. She’ll be one to push boundaries in the future, and she’s certainly shown that to Manchester this evening.

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Manchester-based writer and promoter. Currently putting on gigs for Glass Onion. Contact me at Follow me at @JDNicol.


  1. She is certainly a shining light in the current music scene. Great review, I was fortunate enough to see her a couple of years ago before the album was recorded and have followed her since. She deserves great success but also the space for her to develop her art in her own manner.


  2. This is a good review, though I assume you meant ‘superhuman’ or ‘sublime’ rather than subhuman? What stood out for me at the Cathedral is how she has progressed since she passed through the north on the NME Radar tour last May/June. Her professionalism has increased notably, which I suppose is partly down to her exposure to scrutiny in the US during the interim, especially the grilling she got on LA’s KCRW radio station and playing at The Troubadour. She does at times now seem almost other-wordly, and sucks you into that world to the exclusion of anything else. Only great artists are capable of that. Technicaly, I agree she is a superb guitarist, quite possibly the best around just now, and with an admirable set of pipes to boot. Her second album is awaited with great anticipation and on the strength of the new song she played I reckon it will make, rather than break, her. My only criticism of Anna is that she has not yet learned how to build a rapport with the audience. I doubt she apoke more than 20 words all night. She could learn from The Master who graced the same stage a few weeks earlier, Guy Garvey. And to fail to comment on the setting, which if not unique is certainly both inspiring and memorable, not to mention the wonderful sound quality, was a mistake. But that’s the only fault I can find. Apart from Mally’s hair, which again requires a trip to the hairdresser’s, pronto

  3. (2) Just one other thing. You referred to her as a solo artist but I reckon that (inadvertently) demeans the top-notch support work of Mally Harpaz and Daniel Maiden-Wood. Anna Calvi is a band.


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