Amelia Coburn & Friends
Washington Arts Centre
Tyne and Wear
Friday 28th April 2023
This was something of an odd gig for me to attend for me, as it was in a venue ten minutes walking distance from my house; yet the last time I was there was 30+ years ago to see Tony McPhee on a solo excursion from the Groundhogs!
While knowing very little about headline act Amelia Coburn; I do love her new Double A-Side, Ghost Town and Thinking of you; a tribute to the late Terry Hall.
Due to my tardiness and an issue trying to pay cash for a ticket to get in, which was apparantly a problem and a contactless card would be better, but wasn’t; ended up with my leaving the cash on the desk then having to explain to two members of staff why I didn’t have a ticket; and having to stand at the top of the staircase for the first act, because the venue was pleasantly about 90% full, I missed the first couple of songs from teenager, Layla; but I was there for her charming song Rose Petals and her charming rendition of The Zutons’ song Valerie although she; like everybody else associated it with Amy Winehouse’s version …. no problem, as her own version was very easy on the ears.
Following a very short break, another young singer songwriter, Sara Leilah made her way onto the large stage.
While saying she was nervous; she gave off the warmth of a seasoned pro; starting her set with an acoustic variant of Death Cab for Cutie’s I’ll Follow You Into the Dark; a song I’m not conversant with; but sounded really good courtesy of Sara.
The rest of her 30 minute set was made up of her own songs; and were all very good and listenable; which was in no small way courtesy of the Sound-Woman, and her …. tablet! Gone are the days of a sound desk looking like the Starship Enterprise it appears.
I particularly liked a couple of songs, Tonight which was an ‘idealistic teenage romantic love song’ which she claimed to be a ‘bit embarrassed about’ but, trust me I’ve heard a lot worse from seasoned professionals.
The other; which she chuckled was “another depressing song” called Happy Enough, which was about the frailties we suffer from by anticipating the worst in everything around us; it was much better than that sounds.
Then; and this is one of the things I love about live music; Sara introduced her finale as having been written following a discussion about ‘sexism still being alive and well’ but being too shy to join in; so wrote a song instead! The song itself Small Talk got a VG and two stars in my notes, even though or possibly because she stumbled over a couple of lines, but checked herself and smiled … check it out if you can.
Again, the brevity of the break caught a couple of people out; because the bar and toilets are a bit of a hike away.
The first thing that came to mind during first song, When The Tide Rolls In was what an stunning voice Amelia Coburn has; and the way she uses it makes it sound like an instrument in its own right.
The other thing to take note of is that she plays ukulele’s ad another small mysterious stringed instrument instead of the traditional guitar format.
Her songs and particularly the way she delivers them makes them quite Folky; but not in a ‘finger in the ear’ manner; but still contemporary even hints of Appalachian music filter through every now and again too.
This was particularly apparent in the quirky and Hitchcockian Nodding Dog; but the inclusion of the line “you have an Etch a Sketch heart’ knocked me sideways …. what a great description.
The mysterious acoustic instrument was actually ‘4 String Dulcimer’ and she played it with relish during Perfect Storm. Who knew you could ‘rock out’ on such a small wooden object?
It was a delight hearing the stories behind some of the songs tonight; not least Sandra which actually lived up to the backstory of her friend in Paris.
I’m not sure if Amelia’s distinctive voice will be a ‘Marmite thing’ as I can’t think of anything to dislike about it as it soars through notes she has no right to hit aligned to the lovely use of her Teeside accent to punctuate some sentences; and it came into its own during Sleepy Town and the song Please Go Gently which she wrote for her dying Grandad after reading a Dylan Thomas poem.
Amelia Coburn is very much a singular artist; going her own merry way; regardless of what the Folk cognoscenti want; where else are you going to hear a song inspired by Harry Nilsson’s A Little Touch of Schmilsson In the Night immediatly followed by her tribute to Specials’ singer Terry Hall; Ghost Town?
Nowhere; that’s where.
Her time on stage flew by; and rattled towards the close with a funny story that preceded her most famous song; Dublin Serenade which really flowed in a way I wouldn’t have expected earlier in the evening.
Before the last song Amelia asked for ‘audience participation’ which made my heart sink; but the rest of the audience seemed thrilled at the prospect and joined in with the clapping/stamping required for Guide Me Home, which just made me seem to be an old grump.
Then we had a very quick will she/won’t she do an encore; which she’d already said she would… and the lights went out for ten seconds and then she was back!
Now; the encore was called The Cheese Song and again featured audience participation; and I’m not going to spoil anything by giving away the twists, turns and surprises therein …. but everyone leaves smiling.
I suppose I attended tonight because it literally was on my doorstep; but I had a great time and can only see great things in the future for Amelia Coburn; especially when her debut album comes out later in the year.