Kevin Pearce: Simply magical (image source: last.fm)
There’s a bit of the rogue in Terence Blacker. You don’t open your set with a song promoting one night stands in a room packed with middle-aged villagers without looking to provoke, and judging by the nervous laughter around me, Blacker got his wish. The secret love child of Richard Digence and Victoria Wood, Blacker seems happiest when puncturing pomposity and self-delusion, his clear-eyed observations matched by a playful use of language that betrays his day job as an author, and columnist to a national newspaper.
The highlights of his set were “Sad old bastards with guitars”, a song that had me laughing out loud as I recognised many of the images portrayed, and “My Village”, a song betraying his affection for village life whilst still giving him the chance to tweak a nipple or two. All Blacker’s songs come with a veneer of gentle humour but don’t be fooled. There is real bite to his wit, and while his choice of targets in “I’d rather be French” and the “Anti folk, folk song” were spot on, some of his quips dripped with disdain. For the most part, though, Blacker had the room in stitches and I would heartily recommend you see him play, provided of course that you aren’t a third generation village dwelling ex-pat rocker cum folk singer.
In complete contrast, Cara Winters writes songs of a much more personal and introverted nature. Her combination of rolling piano and delicately sweeping melodies places her very much in the school of singer songwriters that includes Kate Bush and Tori Amos, though without the melodrama of the latter. From the opening chords of “Butterfly” Winter created a sonic soundscape that was fragile but with a strong emotional pull.
Highlights from her set were “Rebecca”, influenced by the Daphne Du Maurier novel of the same name, and “Do you have a heart”, introduced as the mousey song. Winter has a very distinctive style and a wonderful voice that combine well on each song. If I was to have one criticism it would be that in their acoustic form her songs sounded very similar. Each on its own was excellent but as a set there was a lack of tonal or dynamic difference. Thinking back on the gig a couple of days later it is hard for me to separate one song from the other, yet her album provides a very different experience as she enhances each song through clever arrangements. I would recommend seeing Winter with her full band, or even better full orchestration, which sets off her music beautifully.
The only previous time I had seen Kevin Pearce play was with Kal Lavelle in support of Bastille at the Apex, Bury St Edmunds. Playing solo, his subtle sound was lost in such a large auditorium but he had shown enough promise that I couldn’t wait to see him in a more intimate venue. He didn’t disappoint.
From the very outset, Pearce took us on a musical journey, his alternate guitar tunings giving “The Tale of Stardust” and “Tides” an otherworldly feel, as if Pearce had come down from space to spread tales of old Albion. He has been compared in the past to Cat Stevens and Nick Drake, which whilst understandable, does him an injustice. While he may plough the ancient past for inspiration, what Pearce delivers is very new.
Compositionally, Pearce enjoys playing with repetitive themes, using subtle variations in his playing to drive the songs forward whilst his soaring vocal lines act as counterpoint. This was nowhere more evident than with “Freezing” , where his lightness of touch drew you further and further into the song until, as he sang his final falsetto note, he brought you blinking back to reality. A virtuoso performance and a truly stand out moment.
Then, just as you were becoming used to this mystic journey, Pearce reverted to standard tuning and a more familiar soundscape. Whether singing “We’ve been loving”, a song capturing that end of summer feeling, or the pared down “Winter Atmosphere Head”, Pearce slowly steered us back to the here and now. Eventually the journey had to end and with the wonderful song “The Wormhole”, we arrived home. The crowd gave Pearce a rousing round of applause and the called for encore was duly delivered, “Peaceful Skies” providing the perfect ending to a great night’s entertainment.