Madison Cunningham casts a spell over Islington Assembly Hall

The US singer-songwriter and guitarist brought her haunting folk-pop to London for a memorable night

We’ve been in many a hushed music venue, but the stunned silence that falls over Islington Assembly Hall as Madison Cunningham plays us out is truly something special. Alone with a guitar for encore track ‘Something To Believe In’, her soaring vocals have the packed room as quiet and reverent as if we’re in church. When she’s done, there’s a disbelieving pause before the applause starts.

Madison Cunningham - Something to Believe In | Pickup Live Session

As the Grammy’s have recognised – for the third year now – Cunningham is a force. Comparisons to Joni Mitchell and Jeff Buckley have followed her since early in her career and never are they more apt than on a live stage, where Cunningham carries herself with humility and sincerity and plays like a generational talent. Upbeat folk tracks ‘All I’ve Ever Known’ and ‘Hospital’, two standouts both from her recent album Revealer and from her live set, demonstrate her skill as both a lyricist and guitarist, whilst her vocals shine in gentler moments, echoing through Islington Assembly Hall in ‘Something To Believe In’ like a prayer.

Madison Cunningham - Hospital (Official Video)

The evening’s most magical moment by far though is Grammy-nominated song ‘Life According To Rachael’, a stunning ode to Cunningham’s grandmother reminiscent of Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’ or Kate Bush’s ‘Moments Of Pleasure’. That is to say, the kind of song that could conceivably continue to move and capture listeners for generations. Cunningham’s live performance of the track is transcendent, displaying the very best of her songwriting and vocal talents, and more crucially her open-hearted onstage presence. Audience members are crying by the time she sings the devasting final lyric: “Once your girl, I’m always your girl”.

Madison Cunningham - Life According To Raechel (Live At Sonic Ranch Big Blue)

Cunningham is charmingly unassuming onstage, quietly authentic, gently chatting to the audience in-between songs and thanking us for turning out in such numbers and with such enthusiasm. Mostly, however, she is focused on the task in hand. As she disappears into each track, she pulls us deeper in with her. It’s dark when she sends us on our way, but to leave her spell behind is akin to stepping out, stumbling, into a new day.