Emily Smith's Songs for Christmas tour with its stop-off at The Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh has established itself over the last few years as a firm part of The Queen’s Hall Christmas programme, and of many audience members’ Christmas too.
This is my third year of reviewing this show and, like all the other years, there is a predictability to the format of traditional songs, self-written songs from Emily, and the almost obligatory at this time of year “audience participation games”. I mention this not as a negative, but because this predictability is in part the reason for the success of the show over the years. Emily Smith and her band know exactly what their audiences want at these shows and, in return, when buying the tickets, the audience know pretty well what the evening is going to be about – result, everyone is happy. The formula works, it may need tweaked with updates every few years, but it definitely does not need changed.
Every year, Emily Smith and her band, Jamie McClennan (vocals, guitar, fiddle), Anna Massie (vocals, guitar,) and Ross Hamilton (vocals, bass) give us all a show with a very traditional feeling to it - that sort of warm Christmas feeling that we maybe all hope for, but all too often fail to get. This show is very much a family show and although not on stage, you get the feeling so often that Emily and her husband Jamie McClennan have invited you into their family home as they talk about how their Christmas with their two young children is progressing.
Oddly enough, for someone with such a unique voice, Emily Smith made the discovery of her vocal abilities in her teens and it is not as a vocalist, but an instrumentalist that Emily became” National Mod champion”. Now, on stage, those two elements of playing piano accordion and singing are often combined.
Opening this show with the ever popular “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, and performed by Judy Garland in the 1944 MGM musical Meet Me in St. Louis) we were all, once again, reminded of just how perfectly suited Emily’s vocals are to these Christmas songs, and especially to the traditional Christmas songs, and Silent Night was as good an example as any of this perfect match of vocals and song. For Christmas song trivia people out there, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is a song that Liza Minnelli would always avoid singing live as it always brought back memories of her mother singing it to her as a child. I think that that little fact alone shows just how personal many of these Christmas songs are to so many people.
Emily Smith has of course her own career not only as a folk/traditional singer, but also as a songwriter, and “Find Hope” is one of those songs, perfect for this time of year with its obvious message. Every year now that I leave an Emily Smith Christmas show though I leave with the thoughts that Emily has such a wonderful clear tone to her vocals that there is so much potential here that has yet to be even explored in part, and that here is someone with the vocal ability to step far outside of the confines of traditional music. One glimpse of those possibilities tonight was a cover of the Joni Mitchell classic “Urge For Going”. Somewhere out there I hope is a gifted songwriter with the perfect songs for Emily Smith and her very unique voice.
This is a “family show” and the on-stage family all have their own parts to play here as Jamie McClennan, Anna Massie and Ross Hamilton all perform some music without Emily on-stage. Also tonight, our special guest Gaelic/Scottish singer, television presenter and actress, Kathleen MacInnes added her own unique performance to the show.
Emily Smith's Songs for Christmas tour gives an audience exactly what the show title promises. Christmas is obviously a very special time to Emily Smith and her family and these songs are obviously very special to her and the band. There is however, amidst a world of mixed messages at this time of year, a very clear message from Emily Smith and so many of the songs performed in this show - the original message behind Christmas and the reason that the name of the day is Christmas.
Review by Tom King