The performance area at the Minerva Theatre in Chichester is like a small Roman amphitheatre. Many people would be intimidated by this intimate arena but Julia Biel's signature big boots seemed to be the grounding influence that allowed her to open up to vulnerability and not cave in.
Gladiator style, they took her from the grand piano to the electric guitar and back several times. She was joined by clarinettist, saxophonist and co- producer of her newest album Love Letters and Other Missiles, Idris Rahman on bass. Patrick Illingworth (who also plays in the jazz and roots band Soothsayers, founded by Idris and whose lead vocalist is also Biel) was on the drums. Their already established rapport was evident during the instrumental section of 'We Watch the Stars', where they relaxed and played off one another. Her lyrics were elevated by a voice that could make DIY shelf assembly instructions sound emotional. There was a Nina Simone flavour to the lower registers, which had a breathy reed-like quality. This could be heard in ballads like 'When the Sun Goes In' and 'Nobody Loves You Like I Do', whose melodies had surprising and beautiful twists.
When playing a funked-up version of Nina Simone's 'Feeling Good', however, her voice was distinctly hers. Her upper register was more focused and trumpet-like with textures in between. A former Perrier Jazz Vocalist of the Year winner, she is versatile enough to incorporate other styles of music into her songs like the happy-go-poppy 'Emily'. The repetition of a good phrase like in 'Wasting Breath' worked really well. As a stripped back trio, the harmonies for this song had to come from somewhere, and as a charming surprise, Illingworth made his debut as a backing singer, with bassist Idris joining in too.
– Tina Blower (story and photo)