It’s a surprisingly busy Wednesday night at the Soho Revue Bar for a new acts showcase, and Londoner Alice McLaughlin has her work cut out. Sandwiched between two certified oddballs — louche kimono-clad innuendo machine Antony Elvin and equal parts junkyard blues-ster/mad inventor Thomas Truax, Alice is that far from rare breed: a girl with an acoustic guitar. How do you stick in the audience’s minds in that company?
It helps if you bound on stage with a big grin and a mass of blonde hair. It helps if you kick your shoes off and perform barefoot, twisting your toes into the stage and going up on tiptoe to hit the high notes. And it definitely helps if you have tight backing from a well-drilled bassist and drummer. But none of these are going to be any use if the songs and the voice aren’t there.
But fortunately, they are. Alice’s seven-song set showcases a forceful guitar style, a voice that swtiches from a laid-back slur to a yelp powerful enough to ratttle the Revue Bar’s chandeliers — frequently within the same line — and a set of songs which show influences from travels around the UK and a recent road-trip across the US. Standout songs such as ‘Dolly Figured’, built around a rolling riff that brings to mind Jeff Buckley, and the self-confident ‘End of the World’, have a widescreen feel to them; very welcome in a small, crowded club venue. And her committed, energetic performance didn’t allow her to slip into the dreaded realms of background music. The long list of influences on her MySpace page include Rickie Lee Jones and Aimee Mann, and you can hear them in the mix. She’s no sensitive, wimpy soul, our Alice.
So, can she stand out from the crowd of guitar-toting girls on the CD racks? She’s definitely got the potential, and with the confidence to finance the recording and release of her own album, she should be able to resist any pressure from record companies to head bland-wards. But Alice has a strong commercial appeal: if she can stay on her own path and keep developing a distinctive sound, she could be a force to be reckoned with — and a welcome presence on the live scene.
Words by Stuart Nathan