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**** Britney Spears isn’t the obvious choice of artist for Sarah Jane Morris to cover. Morris, after all, is a politically-engaged, big-voiced diva who writes songs about Robert Mugabe and her recent break-up with one of The Pogues after 22 years of marriage. As for Britney she’s, well, the ultimate ambitious production-line pop moppet gone bad. But hey, Toxic is a great song, especially in the acoustic white reggae treatment gifted it by Morris and guitarist and song-writing partner Dominic Miller.
This is Morris’ first Edinburgh appearance in 23 years, when she was vocalist with 22-piece political brass band The Happy End during the height of Thatcherism when “you knew who the enemy was”.
Since then, Morris’ peripatetic career has seen her score chart success with the Communards, dueting with Jimmy Sommerville on Don’t Leave Me This Way, find herself bannedby the BBC for apparent Sapphic overtones on a version of Me and Mrs Jones, and find herself passed over as the title role in a biopic of Janis Joplin in favour of Ms Spears.
Hence the bittersweet cover of Toxic in this intimate, autobiographical and semi-scripted show named after her recent album. Some of this is deeply personal, while other stuff harks back to Morris’ Happy End days over an hour’s worth of full-circle rage that proves once and for all that radical chic is back on-message. Morris has retained the power of her voice over the years and with a bit more flesh on its bones by way of a full band, this could be a show of even more force.
It’s all a long way from Morris’ forthcoming collaboration with Pere Ubu’s David Thomas on a musical deconstruction of the play of the same name, but it’s a heartfelt return for one of the UK’s best-kept secret vocal talents on the scene.