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For those such as me who unfortunately have to admit to being of a ‘certain’ age comes at least one advantage and that was a childhood that spanned the 60’s in a house that was constantly filled with the sounds of huge expressive voices and lavish string accompaniments that poured from the glowing box of magic that held pride of place in our living room – the wireless. (That’s a radio to our younger readers!) With the advent of television and shows being offered to a growing number of recording artists it was an opportunity for viewers to bask in a little of the glamour previously only experienced in the nations night clubs and cabaret venues and so a host of female performers resplendent in sequined gowns, luxuriously lashed eyes and film star hairstyles shimmered back from the screen and gave music lovers an aesthetic ‘shot in the arm’. Fast forward to the muti-media age in which we now live and we are certainly not short of any number of colourful performers exploding onto stage and screen – some with talent to match and a considerable number without. Is there room then for a bit of ‘old school’ glamour and a sound that speaks of the best of the past and yet still bears relevance to the present?

One such artist who is proving that she is more than capable of achieving this is Ren Harvieu. Growing up in a Salford home awash with music diverse in styles from the soulful sounds of Stevie Wonder to the Irish folk songs of her musician father and possessing a desire to emulate the achievements of the female greats she has developed a style that draws heavily from the 60’s. Therefore comparisons to the girls who had the greatest impact at that time – such as Dusty Springfield and Shirley Bassey are understandable but I also hear glimpses of the fragile emotion that was contained in the voices of Kathy Kirby and Julie London whose stars burned brightly but briefly – a characteristic that Ren Harvieu need not fear.

Through the brightly coloured shafts of light that criss-cross the stage of Manchester’s HMV Ritz, Ren emerges from the shadows draped in a full length blazing orange dress with immaculate make up applied to her stunning features, topped with a black hat and sets the tone for the night by launching into the slow seductive “Tonight” giving the crowd a taste of what she can do with her truly amazing voice.  The title track of her debut album “Through the Night”- released earlier this year follows next and encapsulates the ability she has to write and perform a song that could easily be a standard plucked from a time decades earlier.

Back in February Ren played this same venue as part of a multi artist package - “HMV Next Big Thing” and later in her set tonight she will go on to say how excited that she is that she is now back on this same stage packing the house as a headline act. That same night as I watched from my customary place on the barrier and attempted to capture a few images of her performance I received a tap on my shoulder and looked around to see a lady with a smile as wide as could be imagined who proceeded to tell me with evident pride – “That’s my girl” to which I replied “you must be very proud” and of course although she confirmed it, she didn’t need to as it was there on her face for all to see. I went home later that night privileged that she had shared that with me. Tonight her mum is amongst many members of her family in the crowd and she makes a point of picking them out between songs to acknowledge them.

Much has happened to her both before that February date (with her much documented career threatening accident) and since, as she has continued to grow as a performer. Her ability to captivate an audience with her voice has never been in question but as the shows increase in size and frequency there is a need to engage the audience between songs and this something that is developing now as she explains to us that “She Won’t Love You Like I Do” was written during a tube journey and for her is her ‘Dolly Parton moment’ and also how “Love Is a Melody” (written as a nineteen year old) sounds so much better now that she believes that she has become a better singer – an understatement if ever there was one! It’s that moment however – typical in her set - when she has completed a breathtaking performance such as on “Forever In Blue” where the last note fades, the applause begins to ring out and her face lights up in an expression that seems to indicate that she just can’t quite believe that this is happening and it’s this combination of her glamour along with her charming ability to remain‘ordinary’ that adds to her appeal. So much so that as the crowd call out for her return to the stage for an encore it is clear that no such plan had been made and as she is encouraged back she is a little unsure as to what to sing asking the crowd for their opinion resulting her giving a fine rendition of George Harrison’s “Something”. Recent opportunities and diverse musical collaborations indicate that there is so much more to come from this hugely gifted young performer and I believe that there will be many more nights where Ren Harvieu’s mum will be able to gaze proudly at her daughter and say “That’s my girl”.

Review by Shay Rowan - Photos by Melanie Smith

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