There’s certainly more than a touch of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl to 22-year-old Rachel Sermanni: the floaty blue dress, the bare feet, the frequent tipping of toes. There’s real character to her set though, both in her amusing, relaxed exchanges with the audience and in her dark, tangled folk songs. At times her movements evoke Joanna Newsom, but there’s little of the latter’s divisive musical style in this deceptively sweet set.
It’s all so friendly that by the time the encore’s drinking song comes around, everyone is singing - or whistling - along.
Sermanni’s music manages to avoid most of the sins of the singer-songwriter horde. There’s a genuine balance of sweetness and darkness to her songs: it never feels affected just to appear deep and interesting. Her beautifully earthy alto is unique, but never seems artificial. She’s a refreshingly candid performer who stands out amongst a legion of twee, forgettable try-hards. If she occasionally ranges into mawkishness, it’s forgivable because it’s so rare.
Following an accomplished support slot from Colin MacLeod (The Boy Who Trapped The Sun) Sermanni’s set features a range of songs from her new EP Everything Changes and her 2012 album Under Mountains. Naturally, the older material feels more polished – standouts include Bones’ storming shanty and Waltz’s delicate melancholy – but the new stuff is equally interesting. Two Birds is particularly effective, with a chorus that brilliantly intertwines its music and lyrics.
Sermanni is ably assisted by pianist Jennifer Austin and MacLeod on guitar, with whom she shares some warm banter. When Sermanni says how lovely it is to have a “whale” (grand piano) onstage and to hear it “sing,” Austin ripostes, “Don’t talk to me like that.” The dialogue rarely feels calculated; the snippets of Father Ted being bandied about make it feel like a totally natural conversation. She isn’t afraid of teasing her audience either. When she introduces some new material, she calls us her “guinea pigs. Or rabbits. But less sweet.” It’s all so friendly that by the time the encore’s drinking song comes around, everyone is singing - or whistling - along.