“My darlings, arise from your mossy beds, and leave your lichen dreams behind…”
These were the first words Jane Siberry uttered when she got up on stage last night. The opening lyrics to her song Morag were subtly altered to address her audience directly; they were liltingly spoken and not sung, without accompaniment from the guitar hanging round her neck. Instantly the 350-strong crowd gathered in London’s St James’s Theatre Studio – a far more intimate venue than this Canadian superstar would have commanded back home – were drawn close into Siberryland, a place where none of the usual rules of music, performance and even rationality apply.
Jane Siberry is sometimes described as Canada’s answer to Kate Bush, or to Tori Amos, as a way of explaining the reverence in which she is held in her native land. In truth, she has no more in common with them than they do with each other, beyond the fact that they all defy easy comparison or categorisation.
Siberry’s songs are like poems, or fragments of dreams. Her tunes are achingly beautiful but, like a painter who’s never quite happy with their canvas, she likes to mess them about in live performance until they are more perfectly imperfect. Her voice is a softly skirling, whirling bird of a thing, gusting upward on a sudden draught of inspiration and hovering briefly on its flight of fancy, before swooping down again to carry off the fugitive melody.
“Whoops,” she says at one point, smiling and correcting the fingering on her guitar, “I’ve drifted away from the chord.” After nearly 40 years in the music business, she seems more relaxed and at home on the stage with a crowd of strangers than most people are in their living room with close friends.
And she’s funny. After a particularly loud and long round of applause, she says, mock petulantly, “Fine. Chase me away with your clapping.” She introduces her song Dante by saying it’s not about the Italian poet, but named after a horse “who stamped negative energy into the ground”.
Having praised her sometime collaborator, k.d. lang, by saying “for some reason, artists like her and Frank Sinatra, their soul leaks on to their everyday voice”, she immediately undercuts her gushing with an aside, in the serious tones of a doctor delivering a diagnosis: “It could be leaky soul syndrome.” And, finding herself getting too deep about her combative mother, she adds: “I was thrilled when she died, because I finally got her to admit that if she’d been born in my times, she’d have been texting way more than me.”
Siberry has a new album out in mid-November: Angels Bend Closer, her first major recording in six years. On the evidence of this enchanting and enchanted evening, even with 20 previous CDs behind her, Siberry has plenty of magical surprises still up her sleeve.