Since the disbandment of Purson, multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter Rosalie Cunningham has gone from strength to strength in her career with a brace of highly eclectic but wholeheartedly compelling and immersive releases. This past Friday, The Giffard Arms saw the Magical Musical Merry-Go-Round make a most welcome return to Wolverhampton with her quirky and kaleidoscopic brand of rock positively matched to the character of the venue.
The Giffard Arms, Wolverhampton – 9 June 2023
Words: Sophie James
Photography: John Inglis
As the intro of Manic Depression faded, Rosalie’s appearance was greeted with a huge cheer. Unlike its studio counterpart opening instrumental, Start With The Corners, built gradually until that overturian riff finally detonated.
Its constituent parts were wholly representative of what was to follow. With a Tull/Crimson style main riff, Lordy keys, heavy wah-wah on the guitar solo, and even a wee bass flourish, they were up and running.
With all the deviation in the music, Sound Guy Al soon realised he was in for a busy evening and should be commended for his sterling efforts in keeping atop the constantly changing levels. The final power chord was met with a huge cheer from this small dedicated, enthusiastic, but vociferous crowd. Rosalie was taken aback at the reaction and emitted a huge smile.
Already revelling in the occasion, Rosalie’s eyes were positively smiling as that distinctive fuzzy riff launched Ride On My Bike. “Beep, Beep. Did I do something wrong?” A brief Mayesque guitar segment contrasted sharply with the subsequent all-out assault of deep rhythms and riffs.
That decelerating, final reiteration of the chorus lingered so majestically that the assembled literally hung to every microsecond of it, accentuating a musical triumph that elicited an even greater roar.
One was already realising what an incredibly special evening was in the making with so many gems in her solo work and back catalogue. It was always going to be a case of what masterpieces would be omitted.
“I think I’ve seen all there is to see. Dionysus lived through me.” The extended whimsical keyboard intro of Dethroning Of The Party Queen is reminiscent of an excerpt from a pantomime or one of those classic children’s films from the ’60s.
However, such are the intricacies of the arrangements that things never stagnate. Elaborate and complex certainly, fascinating most definitely, challenging to the listener, never!
What a staggering balance to achieve and indicative of the imagination to create such pieces and the flair to bring that vision to fruition. It was noticeable how intently Rosalie was observing the other band members. When arrangements are as fluid as this, then it becomes practically mandatory.
Guitarist Rosco and Bassist Claudia are just the perfect musical and vocal foils. The latter’s harmonies add yet another rich layer to an already opulent soundscape. The key change and Aaron’s Keyboard solo saw those previous quirky tones take on a more menacing feel, invoking images of a macabre fairground. And still, the cheers got bigger.
“Here’s where Rosco and I sing together. A thinly veiled excuse to have a go at each other on stage.” Duet is a mini–Soap Opera within one song, an extravagant musical domestic between a thespian starlet and her significant other. It is just made for live performance to witness the interaction on a musical and dramatical basis.
“Well, you say you’re gonna be a big star. Whaddya know, whaddya know?” An angry exchange where opinions, even jealousies, are unshackled. The starlet’s subsequent defensive reply “I don’t know what you’re implying. I’m a fool for trying to make you see. Wait and see, this time next year, we’ll be millionaires.”
What an utter delight to hear that iconic phrase worked Queen-like into such an unconnected topic. And I haven’t even mentioned the mushrooms.
“Like the fossil is the stone’s memory of the bones of the animal.” Fossil Song came across as more spirited than the more chilled studio version. The extended outro solo was just majestic.
“There’s a mark upon my heart, a stubborn work of art or unexplained remains. ” Such an alluring analogy.
Riddles And Games sees a different approach. A pulsating intro and verse ultimately yields to a more dynamic chorus straight out of the ’70s. One is swept along by its energy and the intensity of the heavyweight rhythm.
“We’re gonna get folky for a bit.” So we arrived at the Donnies. Donovan Ellington chronicles the nautical dream of one old enough to know better. Another distinctive riff but, thematically, quite a folky solo. Rosalie even indulged in a little celebratory jumpette at its conclusion.
Its sequel, Donny, Pt Two, naturally, immediately follows with an almost shanty-like vibe. “The next album has Pt. Three on it” was welcome news to the aficionados.
Tempest And The Tide saw them roll up for the first mystery tour into the Purson back catalogue. It certainly lived up to its name as a storm was brewing.
The serene intro gave no indication of what was to follow. Claudia cut an equally striking figure as her flute came in over Rosalie’s acoustic guitar. Her long flame hair swayed rhythmically, often silhouetted by the backlighting.
A folky, pseudo-medieval melody morphed into something more Arabesque, continuing to rise in intensity into a stomp, a glorious keyboard solo and even shades of out-and-out Metal in its latter stages. Quite the epic that one could easily immerse, then lose yourself in.
“This one takes you on a mystical journey, wondering where the fuck you are…..” True to her word, Tristitia Amnesia, if lyrically surreal, is musically sublime. The sumptuous female harmonies give the start an ethereal alcohol-induced out-of-body feeling. “Tristitia, bottle dry, River run, end is nigh, Bottle dry”. Another stellar example of the interplay between the instrumentation.
Rabbit Foot has a very boogie-woogie initial feel to it, with Rosco handling most of the vocals. Mid-song, Aaron’s keys ignite it until Rosco once again brings it home so exquisitely and concludes on the most delightful and fleeting of power chords.
By now, the walls were positively dripping, what with the long-awaited summer temperatures and the energy exchange between artist and audience.
“This is the last song.” Delving into Chapter Two of the Book of Purson saw the most traditional rock ‘n’ roll number of the evening in the form of Chocolate Money. A straight-down-the-line number propelled by some vibrant boogie woogie piano.
In a set full of musical marvels, it will be of no surprise to see the song alter pace, include a flute solo, generate more female harmonies and only then insert the traditional guitar solo. You certainly get your money’s worth in a single song, not to mention a complete set.
“Guys, this really is the last song,” was the parting statement, and the phrase “Too much is never enough” immediately sprung to mind. Alas, already eagerly anticipating the more comprehensive autumn tour.
There are some artists whose works not only shatter the expected norms but are transcendental in the manner in which they take you on a mesmeric musical journey, dipping into a vast Aladdin’s cave of heritage yet forging their own unmistakable style and identity.
In all my years of going to gigs, I don’t think I have experienced an artist who not only composes such varied and intricate works but arranges them so intelligently that they are a natural and compelling, never challenging, listen.
It also takes a superior level of talent and impeccable virtuosity in all departments to bring them to life so dynamically that they demand and maintain your undivided attention throughout. Every note was an utter joy.
True art is never constrained by the limits of its observers, and one ponders where the next stop may be on this unquenchable aural experience.