It’s a warm Sunday night in Manchester and Stella Donnelly graces the stage of Yes’ Pink Room like an old friend dropping by for a cup of tea and a catch up. Naturally confident without a hint of arrogance she immediately engages the crowd with a dialogue that is neither patronising nor superficial. She tells us how she is happy to return to the city that hosted her in the Soup Kitchen on her last visit and introduces her first song of the night, ‘Grey’.
In the song, Donnelly toils with the emotions involved with trying to be everything your partner wants without knowing what that exactly is. It’s a short and sweet song with a lovely piano medley supplied by George Foster, a member of her touring band and a straight man for Donnelly’s relentlessly quick and witty remarks that often make light of the taboo and sensitive topics of her songs.
She goes on to speak fondly of her hometown of Fremantle, Australia, and remarks on its beauty. Delving deeper into this topic she launches into her next song of the night ‘Beware of the Dogs’ the title track of her debut album. The song tackles the Australian environmental issue with the passionately sung lines “There’s no parliament worthy of this countryside, all these pious fucks taking from the ninety-nine”. It is wrapped together by the powerful imagery Donnelly indicts when she describes an architect setting fire to her own house.
Its power is totally understated by Donnelly alone with just her guitar on stage, yet it still manages to be incredibly moving. The message of the song could not be more relevant with the recent Extinction Rebellion protests in London and Donnelly seems to continuously prove herself as socially aware and contemporarily resonates with the topics she deals with. She showed this again with the introduction of one of her most sensitive songs ‘Boys Will Be Boys’.
First warning the crowd of what could be potentially triggering lyrics, she proceeded to tell how her video of the song had been uploaded to Facebook just three days before the Harvey Weinstein allegations came to light. Sharing the story of the song she tells of a friend who confided in her after being a victim of sexual assault. She goes on further to talk of the responsibility we all have to not only respect victims but to also dismantle ideas of toxic masculinity present in tropes such as ‘boys will be boys’ that can be incredibly damaging to young men and lead to a culture of rape.
Moving on from arguably the most powerful song of the night, she now welcomes the full band onto the stage. Jumping into the sway inducing sunshine indie of ‘Old Man’ she effortlessly ushers the night into a lighter yet still engaging tone. It’s a catchy upbeat take on figures such as Weinstein in the media and contains the brilliant line “Oh are you scared of me old man, or are you scared of what I’ll do?”.
The set continues in a refreshingly fun and engaging manner as Donnelly continues to move the set along with her humour. It’s delighting to see an artist deal with such serious topics in a light-hearted way whilst still managing to engage with these themes and address them appropriately. In doing so she creates an atmosphere of unity and there is no sense of unease in any corner of the room. This is illustrated perfectly by her often-cynical commentaries after certain lyrics that encouraged some laughter from fans.
Closing her full band segment was the highly energetic ‘Tricks’. By this point of the night, the connection between the stage and the audience is at its peak with dancing and smiles all around as Donnelly belts out the final tongue in cheek chorus. It’s a moment of pure joy for the band as they dance jokingly around the stage and appear to put everything they have into their last performance.
Donnelly ends the show by bringing us all back down to earth with the return back to the arrangement of herself, her guitar and a microphone. She delivers the lesser known ‘Mechanical Bull’ before asking the crowd if they know the Cyndi Lauper classic ‘Time After Time’, a question that is met by a resounding yes. Warning the audience to wait for it, Donnelly brings in the chorus and the unity in the room is now fully audible.
For anyone not already convinced of her talent as both an artist and a performer, this final performance was undeniable proof.
It is hard to call an artist to mind who is both musically and lyrically accomplished that manages to talk on social issues with such genuineness. Stella Donnelly shows us exactly why the future of guitar music is female and leaves the cynics speechless.