Emily Barker, Brennen Leigh & Noel McKay
Jumping Hot Club
Gosforth Civic Theatre
Saturday 29th May 2021.
Live Music is finally back!
Because of all the restrictions surrounding the first gig at this venue in well over a year, I only received conformation of my ‘seat’ an hour before the doors opened …… which initiated an excited drive across the city in the bright Bank Holiday sunshine, with Emily Barker’s A DARK MURMARATION OF WORDS not quite blaring from the speakers.
Once inside the venue it was equally weird and fascinating watching the limited crowd being escorted 2 x 2 to their pre-booked tables then given a full set of instructions, including how to order ‘table service’.
That said; if this is what it takes to get Live Music up and running again …… so be it.
Just to add to the ‘oddness’ of tonight’s event; the support act Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay were actually still in Nashville and being beamed to NE England via an HD Internet connection; which meant that they couldn’t hear or see any response to their songs.
Aha …… onto the music.
Following a nervy introduction Brennen introduced their first song as being a personal request from the Jumpin’ Hot Club promoter Graham Anderson; and what followed was quite extraordinary ….. Intergalactic Shipwreck Blues; a song I wasn’t previously aux fait with; but proved the perfect start to this particular evening.
As the song ended; and totally unknown to the couple; the applause from the 50 strong crowd was rapturous and as loud (per head) as the Beatles at Shea Stadium!
In fairness it took a couple of songs for the act and audience to settle into the scenario; but eventually everyone relaxed and the mix of new songs (Arlene and the divine Prairie Love Letter) with the couple’s standards (The Ballad of Tombstone Poker and Rosine (?) and After The Show) made their 45 minutes fly by.
The oddest thing for me was seeing the couple three times their normal size; and finally realizing what a scary look Noel McKay has when not singing ……. staring straight down the camera lens with cold beady eyes; and daring the audience not to appreciate Brennen Leigh’s singing voice.
The highlight was when Brennen introduced a fan favourite song; by saying she did understand the irony involved by them singing a song about the romantic idealism of Analog in Nashville, Tennessee and then High Tech beaming it thousands of miles to Newcastle, England.
The twenty minute break had regular Club attendees who hadn’t seen each other for a year or more, waving to each other and miming various ailments …… which could easily become a Saturday Night TV Game Show.
Then Emily Barker made her appearance; noticeably giggling with excitement as she and husband Luke Drinkwater set up their gear; then taking to the mic to welcome everyone and apologising in advance if she started crying at any time in the evening; as “getting back on stage after 14 months, meant so much to her.”
Although several friends in the hall had seen Emily Barker a dozen or more times over the years; this was my first time …… and even a minute or so into first song Geography made me see and hear why her fans are so loyal. Her voice (and songwriting) simply transcends what I know as Folk Music ……. as the night rolled on I heard elements and essences of Carole King, Emmylou Harris and Sandy Denny in the way Ms Barker sings and evolves her songs plus at one stage Emily and Luke embarked on the gentlest guitar duel I’ve ever witnessed.
The couple performed three or for songs from the recent album alongside a wonderful new single called Bound For Home; written and originally performed with Frank Turner; but tonight this lovely sad song was 95% Emily herself with Luke adding harmonies and an extra doze of melancholia by bowing his double bass ……. all of which sent the hair on the back of my head on end.
One of the joys of seeing a live concert is that there are no overdubs or any other jiggery-pokery; this is high-wire stuff; and Emily made a couple of mistakes mid song; starting again once and the second time simply raising her eyebrows, smiling and getting on with it …… that’s Rock and Roll kids.
As a newcomer to the delights of Emily Barker I obviously didn’t recognise several songs; but that mattered not a jot as this was a total joy from start to finish with Where Have The Sparrows Gone? when Emily’s crystal clear voice soared and swooped like the bird itself and then there was The Woman Who Planted Trees ….. phwoar what a powerful song and the story Emily told of the woman who inspired it was tear inducing to even an old soak like me.
The main set ended with Emily taking to a piano; and there was an effortless grace to both Sister Goodbye and Sonogram that to some degree totally unexpected if no surprise; judging by what had gone before.
For the obligatory Encores, Emily returned to her Folk Club roots with Billowing Sea and The Blackwood which brought another round of very noisy applause and a race between Emily and her fans to get to the Merch Table in the foyer!
For me, this was a really lovely way to get back into Concert going; seeing one act that was previously relatively unknown to me and catching up with a couple I’ve loved and admired for a few years now …….. Long Live Rock & Roll (in all its forms).
The Rocking Magpie.