As the winter weather seemed to descend upon us once again, it seemed fortuitous that Ursula Burns gave a reasonably impromptu and intimate gig which focused on her wintery fourth album 'Deep in the Dreaming'. With her captivating blend of pastoral imagery and mature lyrical delivery, the surroundings of 'No Alibis' bookstore seemed the perfect setting, as at its heights there is a feeling of Wordsworth in her work.
Opening with the fittingly titled 'November Snow', Ursula immediately demonstrates the multi-layered talent she has demonstrated across her career. She has a rare ability to fuse almost mythic images whilst grounding it in something much more contemporary. Tonight Ursula is joined by Ciara O'Neill from Kitty and the Can Openers, who provided the backing vocals and the higher range that filled the overall sound so perfectly that it was hard to imagine if the quality would be similar in a solo performance. There are moments tonight when the vocals hit heights that are reminiscent of some of the best work of the Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser, equally bewitching and beautiful.
It's extremely rare to see a performer take the backseat at their own show, but this is exactly what Ursula does mid-set as she invites a good friend to sing with Ciara on the sublime 'Love Letter'. Rather than serving as a token gesture to a friend (who it is explained helped encourage Ursula to make the latest album), we find that the quality of her voice is perfectly complimentary to anything that preceded it. There is the potential for this sort of indulgence to be somewhat hackneyed, but here it plays out as a touching 'thank you' to a major personal influence of the artist.
Perhaps later than expected, Ursula steps away from the piano and moves onto her harp to play a beautifully ethereal rendition of Nat King Cole's 'When I Fall in Love', and as with her songs there is also a story to accompany the harp. It turns out this is the harp's first gig and its Paraguayan, and while the details she shares may seem superfluous, it's the enthusiasm with which her stories are delivered that means you can't help but listen attentively - the true mark of a great story teller.
The highlight of the evening comes with an intoxicating performance of 'Floral Hall' which builds from a meandering reflection to a rousing and vibrant celebration of the now defunct drama and dance venue. As Ursula sings "Spinning, spinning" we are moved with her, not with the dizziness of the movement, but with the intoxication of the sights and sounds she has built for us.
As the set comes to a close and before we are sent out once again into the cold January evening, the audience seems to be left with something warm to take with them. Ursula ponders on her future plans before we leave and jokes that, "I don't know what to do next", and the best thing I can think of for her do is to just keep playing.