Canberra Wins A Beth Orton Sideshow

Column: Features   |   Date Published: Sunday, 14 May 17   |   Author: Rory McCartney   |   2 weeks, 2 days ago

     "For me, making music alongside having children was very important. I couldn’t stop and I didn’t want to lose that part of me that creates."

Fans of English electro-folk singer BETH ORTON will remember well the evocative vocals and haunting music of atmospheric songs such as ‘Stolen Car’ and ‘She Cries Your Name’ from the albums Trailer Park (1996) and Central Reservation (1999) respectively. Two more LPs were followed by a hiatus from 2006 to 2012 while Orton had a family. After returning with two more releases in the 2010s, Orton is shortly to appear in Sydney as part of the Vivid Live Festival, and Canberra is very lucky to have scored a spot in her tour schedule. BMA spoke to Orton in advance of her Vivid sideshow.

After dramatic family events early in life, Orton spent time with Buddhist nuns in Thailand. While her friend was keen for the experience, Orton did not really understand what she was getting into.

Asked if that spiritual experience exercised any influence over her songs, Orton stated: “I didn’t go there necessarily looking for a spiritual experience, which sounds bizarre, but I got so involved and fascinated and found something there I felt I’d always been looking for. I loved the ritual and routine. I thought a lot about music but I couldn’t make music. You couldn’t even speak, with 14 hours of meditation a day and fasting from noon.

“When I came out I started writing immediately, not with any holier than thou spiritual intent, it just happened to be the way it was. William Orbit wanted me to sing and I’d always been reticent. But I came out and said, ‘let’s give it a go’. I felt up for anything really.”

Becoming a mother of two has also given her much to write about, things that she never imagined she would experience. “I’m completely blown away and feel so blessed by it all, and incredibly grateful,” she says. It has changed how she writes because it has changed how she lives. Orton has found a greater clarity, a greater spark and is more tuned in to life. 

After the hiatus while she had a family, Orton was very excited to return to recording Sugaring Season, which involved far more deliberate planning than her previous albums. “I was just so keen to get in there and make music. For me, making music alongside having children was very important. I couldn’t stop and I didn’t want to lose that part of me that creates. It was a way of keeping my head above water almost. Now I’m a little easier about it. It’s interesting, all the twists and turns of it.” While Orton has toured in the past with her young children, with the associated sleep deprivation, she will not be bringing them out to Australia this time.

Her music has evolved over the years, going from electro-folk to more acoustic and now her new LP Kidsticks has veered towards a new electronic sound, with experimentation as the key.

“Getting together with Andrew Hung who is in a band called Fuck Buttons, was a real lark. He suggested we try something out. He stuck a keyboard in front of me and I’d never written on a keyboard before.”

Starting with beats, Orton would play bits and pieces on the keys while Hung would fiddle with the sound, both of them encouraging each other to try new stuff. “He went away and I was left with little four bar loops and I started to write songs from them. I found them quite beautiful.” This was a shift from Orton’s usual practice of writing lyrics first, then following up with the music. “I was not thinking of where I was taking the record, how it works in relation to the last record or what people might think. I was driven by the moment and how exciting it was.”

Kidsticks is an eclectic mix of stories without a central theme. “I never really write to themes but I’m very interested by people who do a themed record. While a couple of songs on loss and grief have always been on my records, because that has been an experience in my life, now I’m also experiencing birth and regrowth. There’s a sense of life and new beginnings. In Kidsticks there are themes of nature. There’s a lot of sky in LA and a lot of driving and beautiful open landscapes. I think those got reflected in the music. There’s a certain psychedelica to the imagery, and that comes out as well.”

This is the first time in a while that Orton is appearing in Australia with a full supporting band, giving her more scope in the way songs are presented. “A band gives more power to the sound and you can go deeper into the material in a different way. It brings out qualities I’d never really been able to maximise before which is really exciting.” The show will have a setlist which ranges widely across her LPs from Trailer Park onwards. “There is a fluidity [to the format] to see how the crowd feels and throw in a couple of little surprises each night.”

Beth Orton, supported by Canberra’s own The Lowlands, sings at The Playhouse at 8pm on Friday June 16. Tickets $65.00–$85.00 + bf. Full details at



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