Live | Nancy Elizabeth @ Vortex Jazz Club, London

nancy elizabethFour years is a long time in music, and an especially long time to go without one of your favourite artists. To say Nancy Elizabeth’s return, nearly four years after the release of her second album Wrought Iron, has been hotly anticipated at FFS Towers, would be putting it mildly. But now it’s time to uncross those fingers and set the excitement level to high because, yes, the wait appears to have been worth it.

Nancy previewed some of the tracks from her new album Dancing, which is due for release next month, in a rare set with a full band in a cramped attic in London’s fashionable Dalston. Nancy is always an interesting proposition live: her slightly bumbling, down-to-earth persona completely at odds with the precise and at times otherworldly music she creates. Placing the show among east London’s hipster set adds a further layer of contradiction, and when Nancy appears on stage with hair freshly crimped, it’s briefly possible to wonder if she’s given herself over to 80s revivalism.

But then her set begins and it’s clear her music belongs no more or less in the 80s than it does in the 90s or the 70s or now – it’s other-timely as well as otherworldly, occupying its own little space in the universe. “To create a painting, you need a blank canvas to start on,” Nancy has said of the creative process. “To make a piece of music, you need some quiet.” This is at the heart of what she creates: silence is as much a part of it as a canvas is of a painting; it is an an instrument in and of itself, working with and alongside the piano and the percussion and the voice. At times it’s as if the music has been spun and woven from quiet.

Lead single ‘The Last Battle’, somewhat surprisingly has a Morricone-esque touch of the wild west about it, while she takes full advantage of her band to reproduce some older tracks in a lush style her solo live performances don’t normally allow: ‘Lay Low’ is given wonderful depth and ‘Feet of Courage’ seems to link the old material and the new. New song ‘Heart’, written, she says, about her grandma, shows off her ingenuous vocals at their captivating best, while ‘Simon Says Dance’ displays her wit as a songwriter.

Though the room is packed and not entirely comfortable, the music is thankfully given more room to breathe than the audience. It’s a mark of the strength of Nancy as a performer that by the end, everyone is able to relax in the knowledge that they are watching an artist in complete control – and that the wait is almost over.