Suzanne Vega in Cambridge

“She’ll be the girl who sings for her supper”

The lights dimmed and a disembodied voice said simply: “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome, from New York, Ms Suzanne Vega“.

It was an aptly simple introduction for this diminutive and softly spoken lady, who entwines her audiences with words crafted so cleverly, that they live with you long after she leaves the stage. Indeed, I surprised myself when I found that I was singing along effortlessly to songs I hadn’t heard in, oh so long a time. The opening chords of The Queen & The Soldier drew one of the biggest reactions from the audience, yet here was a song that I had shamefully forgotten about.

On this short tour, just three dates and a special appearance at Glastonbury, Vega was performing tracks from her new album “Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles”. In doing so she mixed the new with the old, with “Marlena” sitting very comfortably alongside “Fools Complaint” and “Crack in the Wall”.

“Gypsy” is as fresh today as it was when she wrote it as a young 18 year old. The story behind the song is well know to fans, and yes she still has his bandanna. We know because Vega loves to talk about her songs, apologising that perhaps some of the introductions were in fact longer than the songs themselves. Sadly we didn’t get to see her “Dawn-ce Moves”, from her days as a disco instructor, but perhaps some things are best left in the 70s.

My personal favorite of her new material is “I Never Wear White”, a wonderfully dark song which she delivers in a whispering, understated style. Add the thumping percussive beat provided by Doug Yowell and the raucous guitar work of Gerry Leonard and this song has wow written all over it.

The infectious “Don’t Uncork What You Can’t Contain” was sung with a wicked twinkle in her eye. Apparently, so she told us, this is a big hit amongst 5 to 7 year olds and we should feel free to substitute “Macklemore” with the name of anyone you know who might be found rummaging around a thrift shop.

Enjoying her relaxed performance it was hard to imagine that she once only thought herself only good enough to look through the window of Folk City in New York with dreams of… who knows? Today this one time, paramilitary clad, makeup free Avon lady – I kid you not – has returned after a seven year recording absence. The wait has been worth it. Her new recordings, now on her own label, will not disappoint fans, she has a timeless gift for storytelling whether in or about her songs.

Call me old fashioned if you will, but I liked the way she bowed to the audience after each song, and how she thanked her sound engineer and roadie by name. I tweeted after our recent interview “what a nice lady”, and she is. But beware, her words will seep into your soul and make you think.

If you were close enough to spot her Velvet Underground T-shirt worn under her sparkly black jacket you might have noticed that the quote about the book finished “..a must for every thinking adult”. I would commend the songs of Suzanne Vega with the same words.

Suzanne Vega performed with New Yorker Doug Yowell on percussion and Dubliner Gerry Leonard on Guitar.

You can read Tony’s interview with Suzanne Vega here.


Grapevine are grateful to Steaming Kettle PR for arranging time with the artist and press accreditation for the show.