Glittering talent under the trash

James Combes

Nerina Pallot: Shepherd's Bush Empire: Tuesday, November 28, 2006

In a world dominated by media-tramps such as Lily Allen and Paris Hilton, you could be forgiven for thinking that good, classy pop-music has had its day. But in the midst of all this, underneath all the rubbish, there is a gleaming nugget of talent. It just needs a little nurturing.

One year ago Nerina Pallot played Shepherd's Bush Hall. Tonight the singer, songwriter is playing Shepherd's Bush Empire. Geographically she may be in the same place, but career-wise, the distance Pallot has travelled in the last year is considerable.

I first stumbled across the Brixton-based songstress at the Guildfest in 2005. Sandwiched between a clump of hairy Indie bands and a brilliant  — but certifiable  — Dutch drum-and-bass act, she seemed a little out of place. But it was clear that she had talent - she was not just a poor man's Alanis Morrisette.

Fame is fickle and Shepherd's Bush Empire could be the pinnacle of a short career or the first stepping stone to much greater things. But tonight the audience is packed and the omens are good.

Live is where Pallot soars. The songs sound much better without their squeaky-clean production values. And her down-to-earth repartee with the audience is genuinely refreshing. The fact that she's not entirely unattractive also helps.

The familiar opening of  "If I Know You" heralds Pallot's arrival. Her voice lacks its usual level of confidence, as if she's playing it a little safe. But then if you were playing to a huge audience in Shepherd's Bush Empire, you'd probably be nervous too.

Pallot is backed by a string-section, guitar, bass and drums. It makes a change from the stripped-down acoustic Guildford set. That day it was just herself and a second guitarist. And, of course, her between-song comedy banter.

Crowd-favourite  "Idaho" follows. It sees Pallot gain in confidence and provokes a huge roar of approval from the audience. She introduces herself:  "Hello everyone. Are you having fun yet?"

The songs  "rock" more than usual with the full-band. It doesn't always work, but  "Patience", with its bitter-sweet lyrics, sounds spectacular.  "Been good / Been bad / Got worse / Got better", she opines.

Pallot delights in cracking jokes between songs  — it is part of her charm.  "Lily Allen is funny," she says. And then she delivers the killer punch-line: Just look at her. A couple of songs later a heckler interrupts her. But she is prepared for this:  "Did you say you loved me? Say it again. You can never be loved too much  … Look at Jordan."

New song Heidi slides with ease into the set, alongside such staples as Damascus, the endearingly catchy Geek Love, and the haunting  "Nickindia." By the time she plays a rocked-up version of Everybody's gone to war it is obvious that the gig has been a triumph. Tori Amos would be well-advised to start worrying.

Heart attack ends the main set brilliantly, with the entire audience clapping along. Recent single Sophia  — played solo on the piano  — provides a crowd-pleasing encore.

Forget Lily Allen and Paris Hilton  — they are simply pop-strumpets. Pallot is the real deal, a proper musician. And there is no denying that big hit  "Everybody's gone to war, is as catchy as MRSA in an NHS hospital. Thankfully though, it does not have the same devastating effects on long-term health.

Fires is available from 14th Floor Records. New single Learning to Breathe is released in the UK on January 8, 2007.