She may been happily married for six years, but the night before Valentine’s Day, Jersey-born singer-songwriter Nerina Pallot takes to the grand stage of Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music with the intention of delivering a crash-course in the misery, pain and regret that comes with falling in and out of love.
Indeed, the pin-drop delicateness of opening number, “It Starts,” [LISTEN] is certainly something of a red herring as accompanied solely by an imposing Steinway grand piano and a large glass of wine, the 38-year-old quickly abandons its romantic optimism for reflections on the agony of a break-up (“All Bets Are Off“), helpless pleads for Cupid’s arrows to meet their mark (“Once”) and tales of fleeing from the straitjacket confines of a relationship (“Idaho”):
And oh, I’ve been dumb, I’ve been perfectly beautiful
Lain on my back buying lovers with stealth
But I’m sick of you all, and I’m sick of opinions
And I’m sick of this war I wage on myself
I don’t know why I’m so gripped to go there
A universe riddle that only I know?
With producer-husband Andy Chatterley amongst the small but devoted crowd that hang on her every word, Pallot is understandably keen to explain that such laments- (think a kookier - Carole King - are merely based on both observations and her distant past experiences. None more so than on “Love is an Unmade Bed,” [LISTEN] one of four tracks played from the new Lonely Valentine Club EP that inspired the tour’s concept, which sees her pick up an acoustic guitar to examine how domesticity can turn passion into platonic love:
You and me, babe, we’re a vaudeville show
All jazz hands and kisses nobody would know
We’re dying inside but always the life and the soul
Like brother and sister, none closer than we
When you say you’re too tired I’m secretly relieved
But I try to see you again, to see you like the first time
Not exactly first date material then. But amidst all her anti-Valentine sentiments, Pallot is charm personified, chatting to her fans in between almost every number as though they were old acquaintances, offering ruminations on everything from the poor taste of Euromillions winners to the usefulness of death clocks and adorably confessing to a bout of stagefright, which apart from an ironic brain freeze during the melancholic “Mr. King” (“Same old story/I know how this song goes/At least I did, but now I’m not so sure”), isn’t particularly noticeable.
And although heartbreak is the dominant theme of the night, she isn’t averse to straying from the brief, whether it’s reworking Ce Ce Peniston’s classic house declaration of love, “Finally,” [LISTEN] into a beautifully melancholic torch song, unashamedly celebrating her occasionally lazy state of mind on the Scissor Sisters-esque “Real Late Starter” [LISTEN] or almost inspiring the reserved audience to launch into a sing-along with her insanely catchy Iraq War protest song and signature hit, “Everybody’s Gone To War:” [LISTEN]
I’ve got a friend, he’s a pure-bred killing machine
He says he’s waited his whole damn life for this
I knew him well when he was seventeen
Now he’s a man he’ll be dead by Christmas
In other hands, the whole Lonely Valentine Club idea could have been a self-indulgent misery-wallowing experience. But by interspersing her songs of emotional despair with less pessimistic affairs of the heart and an array of wry self-deprecating musings, this intimate gig thankfully turns out to be enjoyably bittersweet rather than simply bitter.