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Juliet Turner - Waterfront Hall, Belfast - 27 & 28 November 1999

After distantly admiring Juliet Turner based only on her widely admired tribute after the Omagh atrocity in the form of a touching rendition of Julie Miller’s Broken Things and subsequently seeing her spontaneously join Brian Kennedy on stage at Expo Ireland in September, I finally got to see her deliver a full set when I flew to Belfast to see Brian Kennedy perform in his hometown. Juliet was the opening act for Brian at the wonderful Waterfront Hall on two consecutive nights, 27 and 28 November 1999.

Juliet, it seems, had worshipped Brian from afar like many women, and she even name-checked him in her song Pizza and Wine, with the line ‘I always dreamed of waking up to singing in my ear; in fact, I used to dream of Brian Kennedy.’ She apparently queued up with numerous other fans at an album signing one day and handed him a tape of her singing that song, and naturally he was sold on her talents right away. When he was performing in London at Expo Ireland, he spotted Juliet in the crowd and asked her to join him, but she didn’t want to blow the moment with a less than stellar effort until she remembered that they both knew Tom Waits’ I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love With You. She climbed onto the stage and, after Brian failed a quick lesson on the chords, she took over his guitar and accompanied them as they took turns singing the lines. Those chance few moments later led to this tour together, and eventually that song was recorded as a Kennedy/Turner duet released as a B-side on one of Brian’s singles and as a track on Juliet’s second album, on which Brian provided backing vocals.

Although I knew little of her character by the time of this Belfast gig, the native of Dromore near Omagh—known as Julie to her friends, although she was christened Juliette but thought that spelling ‘was just way too much’—gave the impression of being a quiet, properly brought up and perhaps shy soul. However, her personality permeates her sets and reveals her to be delightfully outgoing, plucky and full of fun.

I scribbled down the set list for both nights’ sets, which were almost identical, so I shall combine them here. In those days, I merely wanted a record of the song titles and made few other notes, and since it is now five years later, I am unlikely to remember many precise details, so I shall tell you what little I can.

The first concert took place on a historic day in Northern Ireland, as it was the day that the Ulster Unionist Council backed the deal brokered by US Senator George Mitchell that was expected to rescue the peace process and allow the setting up of a power-sharing government. The close winning vote that day was heralded as paving the way for devolution within days, although it was contingent upon a start to IRA decommissioning. I seem to recall seeing something on the local television news that afternoon showing delegates grumbling about the fact that they had to hurry the vote so that they vacated the Waterfront Hall in enough time to allow Brian Kennedy to have a sound check. When us punters replaced the partisans in the Hall, I remember finding flyers on the floor advocating the benefits of voting one way or the other.

With that in mind, when Juliet took to the stage on the Saturday (27 November), she announced that it was an important day in Irish history…for her, as she got to play the Waterfront Hall with Brian Kennedy! The slim singer was wearing a sheer short- sleeved black top over a black camisole above a long black straight sprigged skirt. On the first night, she asked us if her skirt looked crumpled, as she admitted she’d had to press it using hair tongs. The following night, she endearingly began by apologising to those of us who had attended on the Saturday for wearing the same outfit twice. So this woman had no pretension; she chatted to us as though sharing secrets with her best friend. She wore her almost auburn hair short and slightly curled, and she was clearly bursting with a passion for playing live. Or perhaps she was just lapping up the opportunity to open at such a fantastic venue for an artist she admired as much as we did.

Playing to the typical audience with which support acts are faced—a half-full venue of mostly indifferent people still milling about—Juliet showed no nerves as she struck up a tuneful melody on her acoustic guitar and began piping out in her sweet, high voice, ‘He’s warm in purple and soft anointed oils,’ which is an opening line that grabbed the curiosity of many of those present. Her performance of Greedy Mouth was certainly instantly enchanting and, fortunately, most of those in the hall hushed to hear more. The stirring song was an affectionate show of support for someone who had suffered sufficient abuse to dissolve their self-esteem and needed a friend to bolster their confidence. The gentle chorus characterises that lost soul with, ‘You travel hopeful despite your doubts / That you are lonely and ugly, Lying naked on the floor / Love is not supposed to be so sore.’ It ends ‘You’re far too grateful for any love that you get shown / When will you stand up on your own?’

When she finished, she stressed that her debut CD, dubiously titled Let’s Hear it For Pizza, would be on sale in the foyer, and she would be signing copies later. On Sunday, she added with a coy smile that she might just put her telephone number on some of them, as she wouldn’t mind some male attention, seeing as Brian got so much female attention.

On both nights, her second song was the pounding (insofar as one can pound with just an acoustic guitar) Dr Fell, an instantly catchy song with a fuller sound where she proclaims, ‘I do not like thee, Dr Fell, you made me fall in love with you.’ Juliet has said in interviews that Dr Fell in this song about resenting falling for a man, marrying him and giving up her dreams such as becoming a film star like in The Bandit Queen was, unusually for her song subjects, entirely fictional. She claims to have written the song after seeing a book called I Do Not Like Thee, Dr Fell in a Dublin branch of Waterstone’s. I know of no book by that name, although it might have been one of John Dickson Carr’s mystery series, as his detective was called Dr Gideon Fell. Still, it seems odd that the song, which nods to another nursery rhyme, ‘Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross’ with her line ‘your ring on my finger, your bells on my toes’, was not inspired by Tom Brown’s nursery rhyme, from which the book she saw in Dublin clearly took its name.

Poet Tom Brown wrote the nursery rhyme after escaping expulsion at Oxford University when the furious Dean of Christ Church College, Dr John Fell, who later became the Bishop of Oxford, offered Brown a chance to redeem himself by demonstrating his ability to use the literary style of epigrams by adding to and translating from Latin a piece by the Roman epigrammatist Martial. Brown translated the piece as, ‘I don't like you, Sabidius, and I can't say why’, which he later used as the basis to his nursery rhyme, ‘I do not like thee, Dr Fell, The reason why I cannot tell; But this I know, and know full well, I do not like thee, Doctor Fell.’

I think Juliet gets full marks for her composition as well. Juliet herself must be particularly fond of this song, as she has re-released it in different guises three times so far. It opens her debut album, was released as a single that also contained a ‘sore throat mix’ (ie instrumental) version, and re-appeared on her second album, Burn the Black Suit, jazzed up with busy organ, programming, saxes and layered vocal tracks. I prefer the clean delivery of the original version, but some may feel it sounds too bleak; I believe that basic treatment suits the conviction of the lyrics.

After finishing that song to cheers, she clearly relaxed a bit, becoming so comfortable with us on the Sunday night that she mumbled something about an awful feeling that her skirt was going to ‘fall away’ any minute. Bless her. Most women would kill for that problem. Part of Juliet’s enormous charm is her totally natural disposition. She makes everyone feel at home, whether she’s conversing with a starry eyed admirer or addressing an indifferent crowd of hundreds who do not even know who she is.

On both nights she moved on to Burn the Black Suit, a quickly paced song with the slightly bitter tone of disappointment in finding that a love was not The One, which threads itself through many of her songs. With a furrowed brow and an intense gaze into the audience, Juliet sang of catching a man by following advice one might find in Cosmo and whilst both were assisted by alcohol, then finding that the ‘dark angel born to make it good’ was merely ‘a dark angel from the heavens to the dole queue’ whom she found ‘looking back at…gives a better view.’ After the song was released on Juliet’s second album of the same name, I found myself intrigued by the fact that, when all the music dies away, the tail end of a woman’s scream can be heard. In the Beatle days of ‘Paul is dead’ hysteria, one could create all sorts of ghostly legends about such a scream, but in the new Millennium, it qualifies as a modern effect like backing vocals, a scream of frustration—several screams, in fact, as they are faintly audible, with perfect timing, throughout the final rendition of the chorus. Fortunately, she spared our ears in the live performance, as she was, after all, busy singing the appealing melody.

After that song, Juliet gushed a bit about the artist she was supporting that night, almost taking on the role of Eponine in Les Miserables on Saturday when she said, ‘Brian and I go back a long way, but only in my head.’ On the Sunday night, she explained that she had seen him perform in Glasgow while she was studying at Strathclyde University, and Brian had played I Hope that I Don’t Fall in Love with You. I believe she said that she was feeling a bit dejected at the time and she wanted to write something similar, so she went home and wrote Pizza and Wine, the song that mentions Brian and clearly displays the Waits’ song’s influence.

After the cheers for her fine delivery of that engaging song on the Sunday, she added the one variation to the set list of the two nights, suddenly inspired to sing an a cappella version of Rough Lion’s Tongue. For the duration of this song, which later appeared on her second album, Juliet’s guitar remained untouched and she accompanied herself by snapping her fingers. The dark delivery of the song demonstrated once again her talent for wordy profundity, taking descriptions of the worries surrounding relationships to the realms of an Ingmar Bergman film, whereas the songs of lesser songwriters are more fitting company for cheap women’s weekly magazines. She beautifully spells out the basic concerns: ‘Will she love me when my hair gets thin? Would he still want me with my curlers in? Could we sing through all the childless years?’ but has a way with poetic elegance in such lines as ‘Intrigued by speech, our silence keeps our hearts below the ground.’ She kept precise time with her snapping fingers, demonstrating perfect pitch during the briefly soaring chorus of, ‘Is it too rude to ask for a wild sea of grace? For a burning at dawn on a pyre of mistakes between the shore where I’ll lie old and the shore where I lay young?’ Needless to say, the audience was dazzled. The Saturday crowd had truly missed out.

The next song, on both nights, was a light-hearted cover of an optimistic Lee Hazlewood song made famous by Nancy Sinatra. As she played the introduction on her guitar on Sunday, she explained that she didn’t write the song herself and it really pissed her off because it was the one that people always said they liked the best.

Sugartown is a sleepy celebration of easygoing lonerdom if not misanthropy. Juliet turned this cover into a showstopper, a brave undertaking for the supporting act. An artist must have a certain amount of confidence and charismatic presence to encourage audience participation, and the audience must really be keen to follow someone when it is easier to sit comfortably and anonymously whilst paying to be entertained. Most of this audience was eager for their idol Brian Kennedy to come on, and they probably felt they were giving Juliet quite a lot already just by being there. She asked the audience to create a rhythm by singing, ‘Bah-de-bah-bah’, and on the Sunday, she heard nothing when she cued the audience for a practice run. Unflinching, Juliet merely advised that ‘I’ve done this song a lot, but I’ve never been greeted by absolute silence.’ Like a stubborn schoolteacher, she persisted with encouraging the audience to join in, warning ‘I’ve got all night,’ and someone up front yelled—more to the audience than the artist, ‘Sing, for God’s sake!’ and we eventually half-heartedly obliged. We felt a bit like old-aged pensioners having a sing-song in a bingo hall, but I think we all felt better for it in the end; I saw a lot of smiles creeping onto reluctant faces.

On the Saturday, she had had more luck in getting some of the audience even to stand, sway whilst holding hands and singing along with the ‘Shoo-shoo-shoo’ part, as she had commented that, if the audience didn’t sing, it screwed up the entire song. Indeed. But her diligence and charm paid off, and we all lapped it up in the end. This part of her performance was perhaps the most memorable, as she had already regretfully suggested, and her version of the song eventually turned up on her third album, Season of the Hurricane.

I always thought it rather audacious of Juliet to choose to cover a song that some might see as twee, though I would call it ‘feel-good’ despite its selfish soul. Somehow, Juliet can pull off sweet songs on her rare ventures in that direction. She was, after all, a young woman who, at the time, still kept her day job working in a mission with nuns who had no interest in what she might be doing in the evenings with a guitar provided she was there to put out the teacups in the morning. Her religious convictions never seep into her lyrics, which are so real that one does not even notice that they are also rather clean-cut. I understand that, as a committed evangelical Christian, she caught a lot of flak from those around her for using the word ‘arse’ in Indian Summer on her debut album. Children, cover your ears; a new D H Lawrence is corrupting the world. I wonder what those people made of her graduation to the F-word in the lyrics of her song Narcissi on her second album.

Juliet finished the set both nights by playing a song with a mournful sound that I still consider to be one of the world’s most ravishing ballads. Belfast Central has an exquisitely tender tune with lyrics that, once gain, express her fears and doubts about a relationship, but this time they are overcome. She begins with her recurring theme of , ‘I used to be wary of loving and I thought it would just tie me down, / I’d sleep in your house with my boots on, always ready to run.’ She then refers to her companion being ‘here at this point in my struggle when I am clinging to all that I know,’ and she finally lets go and gives in to love. Perhaps now that Brian Kennedy could be counted as a friend and colleague, she name-checked the Counting Crows instead, although Brian added some smooth and subtle backing vocals on the track when it finally appeared on Juliet’s second album. I shall never tire of hearing this glorious song, and it was a marvellous way to close a well-received set in on both nights in Belfast.

After having relentlessly plugged her current album throughout her set to a humorous degree, she left on Sunday night after promising that she hoped to have a new album out by Easter, which was roughly accurate. Meanwhile, I couldn’t resist that night buying her debut album, on which she scribbled instructions that I must ‘take this back to London and play it to loads of people.’ Indeed I did both, and sent a few copies off to the States, too. Years later, I’m still recommending this fine singer/songwriter, although her poppier production now seems to get sufficient support from Terry Wogan and others on Radio 2, so she no longer needs little old me to shout her praises.

At some point, I will add the review and photos of Brian’s subsequent concert on both nights, which included bringing Juliet out for the encore, when they sang Tom Waits’ I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love With You together, ribbing each other like a seasoned comedy duo throughout the song.


©2004 by TC. All rights reserved.

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live at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast with Brian Kennedy in November 1999.