IT is impossible to watch an artist like Sinead O’Connor for the first time without preconceptions getting a little bit in the way.
Between publicly ripping up a picture of the Pope on live television to being ordained as a priest, the Irish singer-songwriter has flirted with her fair share of controversy since shooting to international acclaim in 1990.
And after gathering tabloid inches just days ago sporting some bizarre new facial ink, I wondered what sort of reaction the volatile O’Connor would receive from a soggy Ramsbottom audience.
Luckily, it may have been a Sunday night but the good-natured main stage crowd wasn’t thinking about work the next day — or the fact the temperature was hovering at an autumnal six degrees.
Good job 46-year-old O’Connor was wrapped up warm — that trademark shaven head and striking eyes half-hidden beneath a tasseled woolly hat. But when she opened her mouth and released the effortlessly powerful, broody vocals which brought her fame it was far easier to forget the rain trickling down the back of my neck.
Mainly performing lushly-backed tracks from her ninth album — 2012’s How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? — O’Connor’s performance was vulnerable, soulful and surprisingly warm.
Her somewhat clipped stage presence aside, this was far more than a past-it pop star going through the motions.
And as if to underline this, O’Connor played the hit which catapulted her to world stardom relatively early in her set.
Nothing Compares 2 U receiving a surprisingly chilly reception — there was none of the eruptions of mass swaying and spontaneous audience singalongs I’d imagined.
But with storm clouds overhead, the tempestuous personal life and lurid headlines, which have come to overshadow O’Connor’s talent, melted away.