Over The Retreat Hotel’s Tuesday night’s curry deal, I had the pleasure of a Ruby Gill gig. Despite the sparse audience and stripped back set this was an enjoyable night of indie music. Ruby Gill is a triumph as a solo artist with her strong vocals and poignant lyrics. The small venue was a surprising bonus as the atmosphere was intimate but casual. Letting Gill’s confidence and sweetness shine through in a way not often seen in live music.
(Pictured: Ruby Gill proving her multi-instrumental talent at the Retreat Hotel)
Unlike many female indie singers, Gill’s vocals are ethereal and sensual without being overly twee or too breathy like Florence Welsh or Lana Del Ray. This is commendable as any artist with a fresh sound is always welcome, particularly for solo artists, who I feel can struggle to differentiate themselves from others as there is less space for diversity on your own. Also within a live setting the fullness of Gill’s singing shows off her vocal talent as she switches from strong soaring lines in Gravity to a breathier style in songs such as Follow Suit or her serene cover of Jodi Mitchel’s classic Both Sides Now. This vocal strength gives an edge to Gill’s performance as it gives pathos and emotional weight to her expressive lyrics.
Gill’s lyrics, with their intertwining of the highly personal and the universal, is a defining element of her music. There is a distinctive maturity to her words despite the reoccurring themes of childhood nostalgia and fear of growing up. Autumn focuses on the emotional processing that hopefully occurs after a breakup and how can helps us all to mature as individuals. A stand out song for me, was Panic Attacks in Public as is clear from the name it talks about incredibly personal experiences that are usually not spoken about openly. Not only is it trying to break down barriers of stigma but it shows the strength of individual resilience and how injecting a little bit of humour into awful situations can make them easier to bare. In songs, such as Follow Suit, Missing in Japan, Winter and Autumn she utilises poetic language, full of naturalistic imagery but the overarching narrative of the songs are pragmatic. They take a realistic approach to the ups and downs of relationships, love and growing up. Because sometimes it just comes down to “this is my bed and I don’t want you in it anymore” (Missing in Japan).
The ambience of The Retreat Hotel and Gill’s simplistic musical style were perfectly matched. The cosy atmosphere of the barroom with its vintage wall maps and signage, brick-a-brack and strings of fairy lights suited her narrative and personal lyrics. This nostalgic vibe helped to build the audience’s connection to Gill and her music. It drew us, the audience, together despite filling barely a third of the tables and heightened the intimacy of the performance. This was effective when Gill introduced a song with more than just its title as with Both Sides Now, claiming the reason it was on the set list was because it was her mum’s favourite song. The most memorable of these was with the rhetorical questioning of the legality of ‘covering’ a song which she had written for someone else. Gill was referring to I’m Done a song she wrote for fellow South African musician Johnny Apple in 2014.
Check out Ruby Gill’s Facebook here or her upcoming gig with ‘Please Like Me’ star, Keegan Joyce, on 15th April at The Worker’s Club, Fitzroy, or see her on 20th April at the Bar Oussou. You can get your hands on her recently released debut album, Older here.