Live: Camille O’Sullivan in church

I knew little about Camille O’Sullivan – it’s a name I know and I’ve seen her play one of the ghosts in the Gate production of ‘A Christmas carol’ some years ago.  I had the impression that she was of the chanteuse or lounge singer genre. Who knows why I thought this – it was not based in any sort of definite knowledge.

The series of three concerts she is giving this week, is located in The Pepper Canister church on Mount Street. Officially known as Saint Stephen’s Church, it is known throughout the city as The Pepper Canister because of its Georgian design. For this set of shows Camille would be performing the work of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Cave is another artist I am slightly aware of – mainly through his duet with Kylie Minogue of the murder ballad ‘Where the wild roses grow’ from the 1990s. I know that he is well respected and inspires a fanatical devotion from his followers. I am attuned to more commercial music however.  Being possessed of an open mind I was willing to listen.

The venue was suitably eerie and atmospheric as we entered – the dimmed church lighting with swirling dry ice and David Bowie’s final album ‘Black Star’ playing in the background. It’s a church with traditional church seating. Being experienced concert goers we made a beeline for the front pew – a seat I had never occupied even during my long lost, churchgoing days.

The lights darkened, the band appeared on the altar (stage). Emerging from the back of the church,  dressed in a black cape, and holding a candle, Camille O’Sullivan walked down the aisle to the stage. The audience was silent – we were in a church. It felt a little bit blasphemous to be shouting. I wanted to – I was at a concert after so long. This was thrilling.

What followed was mesmerising. I had no frame of reference for the songs, never having heard any of them before. That was no impediment however. Camille O’Sullivan interpreted these dark, brooding songs with an impressive intensity. Between songs she was a chatty, engaging presence, seeming to be genuinely delighted to be back performing after so long. Perhaps even a bit nervous. There was clearly a lot of love on stage between the singer and the band (the drummer, guitarist, pianist, and multi-instrumentalist – fiddle, flute and trumpet). The audience relaxed. Clearly the church setting had an impact on Camille also – who said ‘sorry, I know we’re in church’ after swearing. The songs ‘Jubilee Street’ as well as the swaggering ‘Mister Stagger Lee’ were the highlights for me.

The audience loved it, giving them a standing ovation at the end of the show. Camille went to the church entrance after the performance to sign some CDs. Sadly without a CD player I couldn’t buy it. However in the manner that Camille O’Sullivan discovered the work of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, when an Australian friend gave her a tape of their songs while in college, I will be exploring the work of both Camille O’Sullivan and Nick Cave. Playing another show in the church tonight, this was an outstanding show.

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