24 January 2012 (gig)
17 February 2012
Complaining about the weather is a world famous prerogative of the English, and this particular winter evening is the sort one might catch one’s death on. A sodden and shivering collection of people fill the inviting armchairs of the Old Queen’s Head as Athena, radiant as the Greek sunshine, saunters onto the stage to deliver new material from her upcoming second album ‘Peeling Apples’.
Tonight hails a welcome return from the diminutive songstress, whose 2009 debut ‘Breathe With Me’ notched up glowing reviews and a faithful word-of-mouth following, many of whom are present and wrapped tightly in their wet overcoats.
Athena, in contrast, sparkles warmly as she delivers ‘Finding England’, a ballad with a big heart and a sunny whistling riff. Her soft, slightly husky voice is offset by the double bass, cello, drums and guitar, and together they render this upcoming single a promising start to the evening.
Drawing influences from both English and Greek folk traditions, and combining a classic sensitivity with a nod to straightforward pop music, Athena seems naturally in control of where she is going on stage whilst appearing disarmingly happy to just see where the breeze takes her. She sails through the uplifting country jig of ‘Set in Stone’, to the poetic and melancholy ‘Looking at Me Looking at You’ to the sensual keyboard flourishes of ‘Peeling Apples’. Through the crowd favourite, ‘Shades of Greek Heritage’, she is irresistibly endearing and has the room at her feet. Beneath the vulnerability she exudes lies a thoughtful songwriter who knows how speak about her personal life in a way that transcends into universal experience, without ever giving too much away.
As is often the case with a charismatic singer songwriter, the most touching part of the evening is when she is alone at her keyboard. It is when the set up is stripped bare that her talent shines through more intensely. Touching upon nuances of Sarah McLachlan, Tori Amos and Nora Jones, she fills the room with heartfelt intensity without ever sounding confrontational or bitter. There is something almost childlike about her inquisitiveness - her music is yearning and questioning, and she holds her entire audience captive.
Lightening the tone once again, she invites her backing band back on stage for the closing number, and, as if she hadn’t been cute enough all night already, persuades her mother to join her at the mic for a final whistling romp.
Never fear the London weather: Athena will warm your cockles and melt your heart.