Emily Barker, Brennen Leigh & Noel McKay Jumping Hot Club Gosforth Civic Theatre Newcastle Saturday 29th May 2021.
Wahay! 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 Delines Gosforth Civic Theatre Newcastle Monday 28th January 2019
In all of 2018 I only managed to get to six gigs; and this week I plan on going to three; of which seeing the Delines on the back of their second album THE IMPERIAL, was always going to be a highlight of not just January, but my year. The night got off to a bad start when I arrived to find the venue’s car park decimated and only about 1/6 the size it was in November meaning I had a panicky 10 minutes finding a space in a side street; then desperately trying to memorise the route for later in the evening. Then I found the lobby packed beyond belief making a much need trip to the toilet something of a battlefield experience, as them pensioners ain’t giving up their private space for nothing or nobody! Enough of my entry……….. The support act was something of a surprise to me (and the promoter!); as Willy Vlautin had met an old friend, Scottish Folk singer Alisdair Roberts the previous night in Glasgow for the first time in ten years and said, “Hey! Do you know what would be cool? Join us on tour!” Well; what was a great idea for Willy wasn’t so good for me. I’m sure what Alisdair does is truly excellent in Ye Olde Folk Worlde, but his dour and ‘worthy,’ ‘finger in the ear’ ministrations were anathema to my delicate ears, and after being shushed and tsked from some very reverential music lovers as I whispered to my mate John, I left him and them to go to the bar for a coffee and a bag of crisps. It appears that there was only a tiny gap between acts; as I missed the Delines first song because I was waiting for a rush to the bar that never materialised! When I did venture back into the main hall, Amy Boone was just about to go into I Won’t Slip Up; and within seconds I was mesmerised by her presence and majestic voice as she purred the words while she clenched her fists to suppress the dark emotions she was singing about. My notes say they performed 15 songs in about 90 minutes; with a careful balance between both COLFAX and the latest release The Imperial; and ‘performance’ is the perfect way to describe how each individual song and story is delivered. While the Cult of Vlautin devotees were salivating at seeing their leader in the flesh; Willy, like me; knows that The Delines is really Amy Boone’s band, which is why the be-suited genius prefers to remain hunched over his Gibson SG in the shadows allowing the singer to shine like a flawed diamond in the spotlight. While there wasn’t a single thing wrong with the ‘older songs’ like Wichita Ain’t So Far Away or indeed the magical The Oil Rigs at Night, the newer songs seem more fully formed, designed and created specifically for Amy Boone to bring to life like Spring flowers. Vlautin’s songwriting talent shines through in the imagery he creates in Eddie & Polly and the wonderfully melancholic song about ‘our times’ Holly The Hustle; and I can’t think of anyone this side of Tom Waits or Randy Newman who could take the subject matter of Cheer Up Charlie and turn it into such a darkly beautiful song, as he does and Amy Boone brings to life. While the songs are often dark and seedy; there are still laughs a’plenty in the intros; with Amy saying they were considering making their first video for ‘Cheer Up Charlie’ but none of them wanted to appear on screen, which led to a chucklesome couple of minutes with Willy deciding Harry Dean Stanton would play him and drummer Sean bagged the Karate Kid! I don’t remember who Amy wanted; but surely it would have to be Susan Sarandon? No? Thankfully we have the generic terms ‘Roots and Americana’ because I’m damned if I can think of a category to easily put The Delines into. There’s definitely Country sensibilities of the Gothic persuasion to Don’t Mess Around With Me; but when Amy Boone crooned He Don’t Burn For Me she criss-crossed Jazz, Blues and Soul with effortless grace and when the evening ended with Colfax Avenue followed by the tenderness of Let’s Be Us Again this modern theatre was turned into a late night Gin Joint full of sad-eyed lovers and losers sitting amid over flowing ashtrays and empty glasses as Vlautin and Boone’s words stung their hearts and souls. Phew! What a night…….. try as I might I will never understand why bands this talented are playing venues (albeit Sold Out) that hold 4-500 people and patently less talent acts are filling Arenas and Festivals. But, The Delines can be our special secret!
Tuesday 4th September 2018
Is she an actress who sings or a singer who acts? That was my dilemma a few weeks ago when I was about to review the star of the Nashville TV series’ Clare Bowen’s debut album release.
Afterwards it was pretty apparent that it was the latter; as the young Australian really can sing, which made us pretty excited when it was announced she would be playing Sage Gateshead in early September.
Because of work commitments I arrived as support act Striking Matches were on stage; so rather than disrupt proceedings we decided to have a relaxing drink in the foyer for once, before making our way into the pretty full Hall 1 us the lights were dimming.
The band entered the stage in the dark and were already playing as a spotlight lit up the far side of the stage and the smiling Clare Bowen, wearing a delightful golden dress and sporting feathers in her hair carefully made her way to the centre and launched into the powerful Where I Belong, which coincidently was the prefect choice to get the party started.
There really was so much to like tonight; Ms Bowen’s voice is quite staggering when heard live…….she can milk the emotion out of every single note on ballads like Ays Song and the song she wrote in the wake of the London Bridge and Manchester Arena attacks, Little By Little; but to me she sounds best when ‘rocking out’ on the Bluesy Let It Rain or Premonition which Mrs Magpie reminded me was from the TV series.
Then there were surprises galore with a couple of sultry duets with husband Brandon, who got to sing his own latest single, which went down very well with the appreciative crowd; and she also sat in awe as guitarist to the stars Colin Linden got his moment in the spotlight.
Highlights came in all shapes and sizes too; especially her stories linking to the songs usually being quite heartfelt, if occasionally a bit Hippyish in context; but that’s no real bad thing as the songs that followed like Lullaby and All The Beds I’ve Made were all the more memorable because of them.
As the show drew to a loud and danceable close, I was surprised to find there had been 20 songs including a medley of Country Classics and had lasted well over an hour and half; which had flown by.
One other thing about tonight; I was reminded a few times why I love live music; as this group of musicians made magic happen before my very eyes, turning random musical notes into moments that will stay in my mind for a long time to come.
This bit may seem odd; baring in mind ‘who’ Clare Bowen is and where she’s come from, but I really do think she has all the qualities, especially a voice to become a Bona-fide Country Star in the near future; and her acting career could well fall by the wayside.