Saturday 16th November: Raevennan Husbandes, Stephen Hodd, Daniel Storey – Live at the Cottage

Raevennan Husbandes (source: https://www.facebook.com/LiveAtTheCottage)

Raevennan Husbandes (source: https://www.facebook.com/LiveAtTheCottage)

It was the last Live at the Cottage gig of the year last Saturday and what a gig to finish with. We a started with Daniel Storey, a local boy channeling the spirit of 90’s britpop. While laddish guitar bands may have fallen out of favour in recent years, as somebody who came of age during that time, listening to Storey put a new spin on an old (I can’t believe I’m writing this) style brought memories of my youth flooding back.

Storey’s opener, “Unbreakable”, set the tone for his performance; a good solid riff and an ear for melody, wedded to an unmistakable Manchester sound. As he continued through his repertoire of “Under the Metal Sky”, “Let the Light fall” and “Roll on”, the theme continued, each song performed with a brittle intensity that kept you interested. Then, for his final number, “The North Sea”, Storey changed style, the strumming replaced by finger-picking, and while it wasn’t his strongest song of the night it was the most intriguing, as it showed that he isn’t happy to rest on his laurels and is looking to push into new areas.

One of the great things about coming to live gigs is that, if you are lucky, you get to see a moment where artistry, experience, talent and venue converge to produce an unforgettable experience. This is how I felt watching Stephen Hodd. I’ve never seen him perform before but it was clear from the opening bar of “North Star”- a song about the sea and life, of uncertainty – that we were watching somebody on top of his game.

Hodd plays in a very sparse, almost delicate style, enabling you to hear every creak from his guitar, every movement of his hand. While you can tell he writes from an irish folk tradition, to me Hodd’s style was most reminiscent of Bon Ivor, in that he is not afraid to use silence for dramatic effect and the pauses between the notes are almost as important as the notes themselves. This was never more apparent than with the songs “Unbelievable Ways” and “Soul Getter”, his use of soft dynamics making the songs particularly moving.

There is also a wonderful poetic flow to his lyrics, the opening lines to “Desolation Town” being particularly poignant. What’s more, you can listen to everything Hodd has ever recorded (or buy as you so wish) by going to Savage Acoustic Records. This will give you a taste of what you missed, but in my opinion you should go and see him live while he’s in this form. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

Raevennan Husbandes has a wonderful stage presence. She exudes warmth in a way that can’t be faked. There was a playfulness to her set in contrast to the more serious, introspective nature of the preceding acts. She sang with a smile that shone through her music. She started alone, playing a beautiful cover of Paul Simon’s “Kathy’s Song” which she followed by one of her own (the name I sadly missed) and it was noticeable that her original song didn’t wilt in comparison with Paul Simon’s masterpiece.

Husbandes’ style is to play a simple picking rhythm topped with a floating vocal melody – like Norah Jones singing Nick Drake – and when joined by the excellent Simon Lewis on cello, produces a rich, mellow sound unique to her. A good example was ‘Box of Innocence”, where Husbandes’ understated vocal dexterity blends into the fabric of the song to form a whole, as opposed to many modern artists who use vocal gymnastics as a means of showing off, to the detriment of the song.

Songs like “House of wood“, written by (and recorded with) Guy Chambers on the album “Harbour of songs”, and “About Somebody” confirmed that Husbandes has talent to burn, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Having Husbandes play as the final headliner of the year was, I felt, appropriate. The quality of the acts playing each month has been outstanding and with Raevennan Husbandes’ set the guys from Wet Feet Records sent everybody way with warm and happy hearts. I can’t wait for February when it all starts again.

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Saturday 19th October: The Black Feathers, Oliver Daldry, David Booth – Live at the Cottage

The Black feathers

The Black feathers

How do you review a friend? This thought was prominent in my mind before the opening Saturday’s Live at the Cottage. I’ve known David Booth a few years , have sung with him, and now he was  about to open the night’s entertainment. What if he tanked? I had no need to worry. David is one of those annoyingly talented people who can turn their hand to anything. Initially a drummer, he has added singer-songwriter, guitarist, sound engineer, record producer and promoter to his list of achievements and he is damn good at all of them.

David Booth

David Booth

There is no hiding the influence the Finn brothers have had on his songwriting, especially his older songs like the upbeat ‘Find our way back home’ and ‘The left behind’, where his bitterness at seeing childhood friends caught in the trap of pre-programmed expectation of what they can achieve in life is accentuated by the choppy guitar rhythms made popular by Crowded House at their angriest.

Yet he is not afraid to show his more introspective side. Love will win every time was a romantic, thoughtful number enhanced (as in all his songs) by excellent harmonies with Roisin O’Hagan. For me, though, my favourite song was his last , so far untitled, which intertwined impressionistic lyrics of a Suffolk coastal scene with the greater ebb and flow of life itself. It showed how far David has come as a songwriter as he created a sound truly of his own and was probably the closest we  got to see of the David I know in his music.

This guy is going to be huge! That was my first reaction to hearing Oliver Daldry and I haven’t changed my opinion. He is just fantastic. This young singer-songwriter – he’s only 19 – has the world at his feet. He is able to get the the complexity and rhythms of two guitarist from one acoustic guitar whilst at the same time knocking out catchy tune after catchy tune. His music is reminiscent of Vampire Weekend in that he uses similar rhythms to the American band, but he has a touch of Nick Drake to his playing which brings a freshness to the mix.

Daldry’s album, ‘The Boy Who Fell’, is out on iTunes for £2.49 and he is touring small venues around London and the East of England. All I can say is buy the album and go and see him in this type of venue while you still can. He won’t be playing them for long.

The Black Feathers are a duo made up of Ray Hughes on guitar / vocals and Sian Chandler vocals, who is also the main songwriter. Their music combines the British and Irish folk tradition with a transatlantic sound that in some cases wouldn’t be out of place in the Grand Ole Opry. Their songs are all based around their tight, sliding harmonies over a pared down guitar; a sound drifting between alt-country to being more evocative of some of the folk based vocal groups of the counter-culture revolution depending on the song.

They were technically fantastic, incredibly polished and all songs were well constructed and excellently performed. My problem was, it left me cold. No matter how impressed I was with their performance and ability, I just couldn’t get into their music. I think, for me, it was a little too polished. The songs ticked all the boxes in my head, but didn’t hit me in my heart (yes, despite what I’m writing, I do have one). There were times, like in ‘Blind’ and ‘Breaking’ where I felt a hint of the muddiness and rawness I prefer, but as much as I tried, for me it just didn’t click.

BUT (and it is a big but)…

I know I was very much alone in this opinion. Everybody else in Dove Cottage loved it, and for the majority it was the first time they had ever seen the Black Feathers perform. I spoke to a number of people after the gig and every single one was blown away by what they had heard. “Absolutely brilliant”, “those harmonies were stunning” and “fantastic songs and performance” were just a few of the comments I noted. And instead of feeling upset about being out of sync with the rest of the audience, I’m really pleased,  because having met Ray and Sian after the gig I found the two of them to be genuinely lovely people, and I wish them all the success in the world. So please, visit their website, take part in their Kickstarter campaign and help these two find the success they deserve. And when they do make it, I will be the first to offer them my congratulations.

 

Sat 8th June: The Floe, Al Lindsay, Lucy Sampson – Live at the Cottage, Debenham, UK

One of the best music venues in Suffolk

One of the best music venues in Suffolk

Walking through the door to the venue, my doubts intensified. This was Dove Cottage, a place imbued with the essence of parish council meetings and WI tea mornings; famous throughout the village for its dusty beams and faded chintz curtains. Why had anyone thought that this could be a music venue?

Rows of chairs filled both sides of the V-shaped room. A number of people had arrived early and there was a palpable sense of excitement. Many had brought cool bags, taking full advantage of the ability to bring your own to the gig. As the alcohol flowed, the scent of spiced savouries filled the room.

I sat with some friends and waited, hoping the gig would go OK. While we caught up, the remaining seats filled quickly until at last every one was taken. The fact that the gig was a sell out should have put me at ease, but my concern increased; this was a lot of people to disappoint.

Finally, the lights dimmed and Lucy Sampson walked to the mic. She played the intro of her opening song and as she started to sing, all my doubts evaporated. The dusty beams and chintz curtains provided perfect dampening, enabling David Booth to deliver a sound so intimate that it felt as if the artist was singing for you alone. The surroundings faded into the background so that only Lucy, her audience and her wonderful music remained.

Now, I have a confession to make. While Lucy sang, a little piece of my heart was hers. There was an honesty to her performance that can’t be faked, gently taking us by the hand and leading us through stories of heartbreak and loss. The highlight for me was her song “Trust,” which has been on constant rotation at home ever since. When the lights went up after Lucy’s far too brief set my friend turned to me. “Shit a brick,” he said, “I wasn’t expecting that. She was fantastic.” I couldn’t have agreed more.

A quick changeover was followed by a change in mood with the soulful funk tinged songs of Al Lindsay and Oliver Arditi, every song an intricate interplay between guitar and bass so skilful that if you closed your eyes you would have believed there were twice as many people on stage. Al has a singing voice many artists would die for, like Chris Rea’s but dipped in honey, and the audience was soon swallowed up inside their acoustic groove.

Expectations were at a high as The Floe took to the stage, yet from the opening chords of Sakura, the audience knew they were in for something special. Here were two people clearly in love with what they were doing, delivering perfectly crafted pop ballads in a style open enough to fill stadiums yet with an intimacy that suited the venue and audience perfectly. Never has melancholy been so uplifting. There were so many highlights from their set: Sakura, Don’t Look Down; Irreplaceable, and the giggle filled Pearshaped to name but a few. Between songs, Sarah was witty and entertaining, clearly enjoying herself as she toyed with the crowd. It is a testament to their talent that their cover of Skyfall was one of the weakest songs of the set. Eventually it had to happen, and during Sun, Moon and Stars I fell in love once more. The standing ovation they received at the end of the gig was fully deserved.

Then, sadly, it was over. The lights went on, the audience started to leave. Dove Cottage reverted to type. Yet, for a few hours, Dove Cottage had been a venue of real quality. I may have had my doubts but the people at Wet Feet Records didn’t. If future gigs are as accomplished as this one, Live at the Cottage has an assured future. I have never been so happy to be proven wrong.