Norwich Arts Centre October 10, 2022
by Paul M Jones
Occupying the tiny left-hand corner of the stage, barely visible in single colour minimalist low-light and smoke throughout, Hinako Omori’s set consists of hauntingly exquisite vocals, keyboard and modular synths. Nothing more, nothing less, as that is all that the ambient composer and sound designer needs.
Her performance is sublime and her sound is ethereal and ambient. It’s an intimate experience with music to recharge and heal the soul, and it reminds us that there is beauty in the world.
But it’s local girl-done-good Beth Orton, visiting as part of her UK and US tour, who is the top attraction tonight. Hailing from Dereham, those of us from her hometown have been particularly looking to seeing her play in the city where she studied.
The splendid, revamped Arts Centre is full – completely sold out to a diverse, intelligent-looking crowd – by the time her band takes the stage, comprising saxophonist, double bassist, guitarist, drummer, the returning Omori on synths and back-up vocals and, of course, the star herself: Orton front and centre behind a keyboard draped in fairy lights.
Folktronica is the pigeonhole in which Orton tends to be placed and which seems to be mentioned in every review. After all, she has collaborated with electronic heavyweights The Chemical Brothers, William Orbit and the late, great Andrew Weatherall, while she herself is a folk singer.
But rather than an experimental, electronic-style performance based around a couple of her livelier albums from this past decade, the sound is more live-instrument driven, with only Omori’s synth providing digital influence.
The singer’s raw vocals, woven through the lush sounds of the band, and expert, tight drumming gives emotion to the low-key segments of the set, followed by upbeat, soaring numbers interspersed with humorous, honest crowd interaction and Orton being, well, just a lovely person.
One such moment comes when her guitarist and drummer start one song but Orton plays the piano section of another before realising what she’s done, bringing it to an abrupt halt and having a good laugh about it.
The night is simply about enjoying her voice, which is perfectly backed up by her excellent band. The atmosphere is relaxed and chilled – a “stand and appreciate the show” type of a gig, as is typical at this venue.
Normally the recommendation would be to buy tickets to one of Orton’s few remaining UK shows before she jets across to the States, but they’ve all sold out. So if you’re not already going, you will have to be patient and console yourself by enjoying her extensive catalogue of varying, beautiful music and noise.
She is a wonderful performer with one of the best voices in the country. And the discovery of Hinako Omori just makes tonight an even more special evening.