Photograph by Gerard Glynn
I recently came across Suzie Stapleton and her previously unreleased track ‘You Were There’ on the Australian Artists for Asylum Seekers album. Strong husky vocals over a soundscape made up of interwoven bright guitar, pause, weight and ether. The intensity is held back just enough to create the tension needed in a brilliant blues track where raw emotion smoulders. Perhaps that’s why it’s called smokin’…
So, when I saw Stapleton was playing up the east coast from Melbourne I made a commitment to see the lady. Sunday 07 December 2014 was hot and humid. I drove the freeway hour north to The Bearded Lady in West End. The experience created a moment in my life where live blues music is either pre or post Suzie Stapleton.
The back band room is small and dark, with whirring fans and high glare filled windows opposite the stage. It’s that dull theatre black that confounds distances. The people, also wearing black, are mainly sitting in relaxed rows with their tattoos, beards and bloody Marys. When the time comes, Stapleton, graceful and discreet, takes the stage and slices her sound smoothly into the space with such focused confidence and quality that each person is immediately drawn into the world she is creating, and she holds us there for most of an hour.
It’s a world where Stapleton’s controlled intensity adds an uncommon level of excitement to the live performance. Every moment, every breathy word, each emotion is built and conveyed by her often trembling body, immersed in sound. But Stapleton is not lost into herself. Her giving is always being communicated forward into the audience, offering to us an opportunity through her song. Her voice and guitar face the intimate crowded room, a loud and beautiful confrontation. Stapleton’s performance has a vulnerability and strength, an honesty, that is coming from some depth within, up her throat, out her fingers. It’s sassy and outright sexy and completely appealing.
We feel excited, maybe in a disquieting way, as dormant parts of our selves awaken. The sensual and seedy tradition of sweat, blues, and bars is being continued. I’m reminded of films like Paris Texas and Wild At Heart. Films where longing and violence collide into photogenic interpretations of the everyday under world. Like these films, Stapleton’s music has space. Whether it’s desert or sea, I feel that I am somewhere significant, transient but eternal. Her characters seem to be on a personal or redemptive journey, through some damn fine rock out guitar, reverberating.*
Stapleton’s music often rises into fast thrills, and traverses gradually up peaking slopes. The audience cannot hold back and they join their leader by standing up, making loud whooping and ecstatic calls of encouragement and sheer gratitude. We’re in a reprieve from harsh reality, washed by sounds that strike our primal desires. Small bright venues are often conservative since each face can be seen and recognised. That Stapleton unties the confined emotions of a very hot and burly room on a Sunday afternoon is quite a feat. I could have listened to that expressive spell for hours.
I highly recommend connecting with Suzie Stapleton on line and live. See links below. Stapleton is in that league of energised and enigmatic female artists that include Melissa Ethridge, Mia Dyson, Chrissy Amphlett and Debbie Harry. Australia can claim her. I am very much looking forward to more.
Catch Stapleton’s final Australian shows before she migrates to London in January 2015.
* Which was mostly too loud drowning out her important vocals – btw soundman!