For those yet to encounter their darkly atmospheric sound, Madam is a musical vehicle for singer/guitarist/producer Sukie Smith, a striking amalgam of tousled hair, sparkly leggings, and knowing glances, all housed in a dominating presence.
The visual and aural impact of upbeat northern soul opener ‘The Snake’ brought to mind a 21st century, pop-tinged Patti Smith. Yet Sukie’s is a subtler, melodic punkishness, shed of its raucous energy and loutishness, but garnished with a certain sparkle. (And the comparison doesn’t end there: Madam perform a song called ‘Horses’ too.)
One might place Sukie somewhere between the lyrical and vocal anxiety of Martha Wainwright and a more wistful version of the feistiness that is Natalie Merchant. But whereas former 10,000 Maniacs’ vocalist calls out ‘hey’ and mourns the premature death of writer Jack Kerouac, Madam seem to set about recreating something of that jazz-infused coffeehouse atmosphere that so characterised Burroughs, Ginsberg and assorted stragglers of the beat generation. Dean Moriarty should have been propping up the bar, happy in the spiritual surroundings of Union Chapel.
Though comparisons to other female vocalists inevitably abound, the Madam front woman is equipped with a powerful yet sensitive voice and remains a unique figure. The vast majority of her songs are intimate affairs. Confessional rather than confrontational, Sukie gradually upgrades her whispery inter-song patter into low-key slow numbers like ‘Call America’ and the stand out ‘Superfast Highway’, and then really ups the attitude on more upbeat tracks, like ‘Calling for Love’.
With such an accomplished performance, the only disappointment of the evening was the short 11-song set. Other fantastic songs on Madam’s 2008 album In Case of Emergency, such as the innovative ‘Strange Love’, were seemingly prohibited by time restrictions.
A multi-talented artist, in 2007 Sukie took a detour into the film industry. After meeting director and fellow musician Tom Thywritt, Sukie was commissioned to write and performed the entire soundtrack of the feature film Hush Your Mouth, watching scenes over and over until, as she describes, “the dialogue became like poetry”.
Having supported the newly reformed Black Box Recorder at Queen Elizabeth Hall earlier this year, and garnered a succession of glowing critical reviews, Madam are surely poised for greater success.