Monday, 23 November 2015

Live in 2015: Blue Rose Code at The Convent, South Woodchester on Friday 20th November 2015

It was another trip to the splendid Convent in South Woodchester to catch Ross Wilson aka
 Blue Rose Code  perform a stunning set of songs old and brand new.

Ross is currently preparing to release his third as yet untitled album and was a perfect choice to grace this packed out Convent gig. Being broadcast live via the superb NETGIG service, Ross was joined by his drummer John Murray on Piano and Eliza 'Wrenne' Payne on vocals, as he led us through songs from his first EPs through to songs that'll appear on the new Blue Rose Code album.

And if song one is anything to go by - we're in for an absolute treat on album 3. It's a brave move to start a show with a new song - especially if people hadn't heard it but Ross, Eliza & John pull out all of the stops for the amazing In The Morning - a 10 minute blockbuster of a track. Ross sounds like a Scotttish Van Morrison as the track swoops and swirls like Van at his best. Indeed it would sit perfectly on Van's Common One  album.

The trio produce a lovely sound that compliments the production on the first two albums and shows the delicacy and vulnerability of the songs to greater effect.

With early album favourites such as One Day At A Time, Ross has chosen some gorgeous songs to compliment this gorgeous venue and the audience are soon clapping with appreciation.

The quality of the new songs that the Trio play are really very good and included a Bluesy take on Ross' latest single, Grateful.
Matt and his team at The Convent always put a couple of videos from the shows up on Youtube - here's Grateful from the night.

Like Wildfire and Come The Springtime from the debut album North Ten, sit perfectly in the evening's show in their stripped down form - one gentle and brooding, the other uplifting and life affirming about renewal.
 Another new song Sandaig, is a gentle, pastel shade of a song - but whether these newer songs retain tonight's glimmer and shimmer is yet to be seen on the final recorded release but tonight they sound gorgeous.

Ross turns to the American Poet, Robert Frost for his song Acquainted With The Night from his Julie EP, which slides beautifully into Silent Drums from his second album The Ballads Of Peckham Rye.

Ross states his favourite description of his music is like Marvin Gaye crossed with The Proclaimers - I can see where the reviewer was coming from but he's much more subtle than that. From Wester Ross To Novia Scotia from North Ten is a plaintive and wistful ballad and precedes another 'new' song from the forthcoming album - which turns out to be one of Ross' earliest songs called simply , Love. It's gentle and poetic and will pull at your heartstrings Music Lovers.

True ways Of Knowing takes on an upbeat makeover and leads into the next track - one of the show stoppers on Peckham - the sublime Edina, which is about Ross' hometown of Edinburgh in all it's nostalgic glory.

The evening has been a lovely mix of gentle and uplifting songs. Ross has proved what a great talent he is both as a songwriter and a performer. But we're not finished yet.

After the slow dance of Edina comes the jaunty and uplifting ode to London, the superb Whitechapel, track one of debut North Ten.

This is quickly followed by the uplifting love song Julie. Guaranteed to put a smile on your face and a perfect way to close a show.

But Ross has a bit more in the tank - the first of a two song encore was the brand new Polksdown Waltz (hope that's the correct spelling) where Ross is accompanied by John on Piano is truly moving. You'll find the video below.

The superb Ghosts Of Leith ends a fantastic show - with it's refrain that brings to mind Dylan's I Want You, it's a perfect song to end a perfect evening.

With the songs from album 3 sounding absolutely superb Ross can only go from strength to strength and is an artist that should be cherished. Heartfelt and vulnerable and not scared to wear his heart on his sleeve Ross has a special year ahead of him. Catch him if you can. Get the first two albums and look out for album 3 coming in 2016. You'll be glad you did.

all screenshots courtesy of The Convent & Netgigs - all other photos copyright Nick Baker

Twitter - @BlueRoseCode

Monday, 16 November 2015

Albums of 2015: Ange Hardy - Esteesee

In a sensational year for female singer/songwriters - this is the album that tops that list of superb album releases by female artists for me this year.

I doubt whether you will hear a braver and inspirational album from 2015. It just goes to show what can be achieved when the inspiration and the muse come a callin'.

I won't spoil the album by revealing all its secrets - but suffice to say that the title refers to the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

And it is Coleridge who is the thread that runs trough all of the tracks on Esteesee.

Although primarily known as a Folk artist Ange Hardy's Esteesee transcends the genre with aplomb. Yes, it is Folk based but there is SO much more to enjoy and investigate within the songs on the album.

The album opens with a chorus of voices and drops gently into a lovely song called The Foster-Mother's Tale. This song sets the tone for the album in terms of it's excellent sound quality and production values. Ange is joined on this track by Show Of Hands' Steve Knightley and the multi instrumentalist Lukas Drinkwater who does a sensational job throughout the album.

You would expect an album based around the works of a Romantic Poet to be full of lyricism and sublime imagery - and Ange Hardy doesn't disappoint in both areas.
Over the 14 tracks on the album Ange Hardy weaves a spell that rewards repeated listenings. I've played Esteesee many time now and I'm still finding Phrases & Harmonies that I've missed.

The next two tracks sees Ange turning her attention to Coleridge's best known work - The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner - My Captain has a jaunty, sea shanty feel which conjures images of the sea with fiddle and accordion, whistles and what sounds like dancing clogs. A glimmer of light before the darkness of the next track to come.

The Curse Of A Dead Man's Eye is hypnotic and is full of foreboding. You can almost feel the sailors giving their all in propelling the ship through those icy wastes. With a drone and a single drumbeat, it is left to layered vocals to carry the song to it's inevitable conclusion - or not?

After such a brooding song, Ange performs one of her prettiest tunes, and my favourite on an album of fabulous tunes, the enchanting William Frend. It has lovely guitar playing and glorious harmonies.

Friends Of Three continues in the same vein as William Frend - it's a lovely song with beautiful counterpointed harmonies weaving whistle with guitar and upright double bass.

How do you deal with an Epic poem such as Kubla Khan? Well, Ange takes her inspiration from a line in the poem which includes a dulcimer and artist Tamsin Rosewell reads an excerpt backed by acoustic guitar and said dulcimer and flute. It's again hypnotic and engaging. If you want to teach Poetry in schools in a dramatic and interesting way, you could do a lot worse than to use this track as an introduction as to just how powerful and interesting Poetry can be.

We then have two ballads with George, a darker song and then Pantisocracy, lighter and flowing beautifully with hope and light - both highlight Ange's clear vocal style.

Many of the tracks on Esteesee come in at around two minutes long - just enough time to satiate your thirst and paint the picture.

It's an album that demands that you investigate further - and you'll want to. There are many things that occur within the album that'll make you wan to dig deeper - so be prepared!

Epitaph Of An Infant is a soft atmospheric song - simple, soft voiced, minimal instrumentation and a harp.

Might Is In The Mind is a mixture of vocal harmonies and a chugging fiddle - the jaunty tune belying a dark tale indeed.

Steve Knightley makes another lead vocal appearance with the next song Mother You Will Rue Me - with Ange providing chorus lead and backing vocals, it's another hypnotic track with harmonies aplenty. And like a lot of the tracks on the album it's gone before you know it. Like the most exquisite nouvelle cuisine it's beautifully tasty and leaves you desperate for more. 

The title track Esteesee, starts off with a delicate harp and vocal and builds into a quietly dramatic, slow burning piano and harmony ballad. If this were a Peter Gabriel song, the fans would be raving about it. Well, it's an Ange Hardy song - and you SHOULD be raving about it. It's understated drama is just brilliant.

Along The Coleridge Way is a gorgeous ballad simple and beautifully effective in which Ange sings of her thanks to Coleridge - and it disappears gracefully.

After the reflective and introspective nature of the album,Elegy For Coleridge is a perfect way to end an album referencing the works of the Romantic Poet. The lyrics are based around words that are found on the epitaph of the Poet's gravestone and combined with mulitple voices, sparse instrumentation and an uplifting beat is the perfect end to a perfect album.

It is one of my most played albums of 2015 and deserves it's place right up there with the best that 2015 has to offer. 

I urge you to seek it out. It's one of those albums that you should play in one sitting - but it's short and sweet so should prove no problem for even the most inattentive listener.

It really is THAT essential. So seek it out - and seek out Samuel Taylor Coleridge - or S.T.C.

Twitter @AngeHardyMusic 

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Live In 2015: Sarah McQuaid - Live at The Convent on Friday 6th November 2015

I have wanted to visit The Convent at South Woodchester near Stroud for some time. It is quickly becoming a Destination Venue for the discerning musician wanting to play in the west of the UK. Coming over the bridge from Wales it is only a 1 hour 40 minute drive from my home near Swansea.

The brainchild of Matt & Charlotte Roberts, it is a sensational music venue with fantastic acoustics, beautiful architecture and the added attraction of being the base of NetGig which gives the artists the opportunity to broadcast the gig live which can be viewed live or for seen days thereafter at a small cost. Plus a rather gorgeous boutique hotel complex thrown in for good measure. I've seen several of the NetGigs which have all been excellent but nothing prepares you for the 'live' experience of attending a gig in The Convent. 

And I must admit I picked a gem of a gig for my first Convent experience. 

Sarah McQuaid - born in Spain, raised in Chicago, USA who formerly lived in Ireland and now a resident of Cornwall in the UK hot off the heels of a successful USA tour played The Convent as part of a short autumn UK tour in support of her latest album, the sublime Walking Into White.

Drawing on songs from throughout her 5 album career, which includes one recorded with Zoe (of Sunshine On A Rainy Day fame) under the name of MAMA, Walking Into White is her fourth solo album.

Tonight, it was just Sarah and her guitar. Shorn of some of the unusual production techniques and touches, especially on the Walking Into White album, the performance tonight showed just how strong the songs are. I would love an album of just Sarah and guitar in the future. It's an intimate and rewarding experience.

The evening started with The Sun Goes On Rising from her third album The Plum Tree And The Rose. Sarah has a crystal clear voice throughout the evening, it's a beautiful instrument and has richness of a multi-coloured tapestry of sound. 

Using sparing loops and effects tonight added just the right amount of variation required to keep the audience (both in The Convent & Online) intrigued. 

You could have heard a pin drop throughout the entire performance as Sarah weaved her magic. In fact - you can catch the whole performance here - as well as visit past performances and future ones too. All for just a small fee.

Next up was a lovely song - one of many from the latest album called The Tide.

For this latest album, Sarah has changed producers and has enrolled her cousin Adam Pierce & Jeremy Backofen who have introduced a multitude of new sounds and approaches to her new album.

Several of the songs on Walking Into White are based around experiences from reading several of the books in the Swallows & Amazon series by Arthur Ransome

I Am Grateful For What I Have is a lovely instrumental piece from the new album and here in The Convent, it sounds truly beautiful. The sound quality in The Convent is just world class and upon viewing the concert you'll see just how good it is.

On Walking Into White there are three short a capella sections called Sweetness & Pain Parts 1-3, Part 1 introduces the title track Walking Into White.
On the album, it is accompanied by a lone trumpet (or cornet) but here with just a lone acoustic guitar - it is truly captivating.

2015 has certainly been a vintage year for the female Singer/Songwriters - with superb albums from artists such as Bella Hardy, Ange Hardy, Olivia Chaney, Vanessa Peters. And to this list you can add Sarah McQuaid who has really pushed the boundaries of her own artistry with Walking Into White. Tonight's show features many of the tracks on the new album and the next track is one of my favourites on the album - Jackdaws Rising.

Sarah states that some reviewers of the album have said that it's almost impossible to play live and then goes on to play a superb version of the song using a stomp board and loops to accompany her shining acoustic guitar. Simply breathtaking,

One of the delights of a Convent show is that they are broadcast live over the internet and you have the opportunity to purchase the show to watch over a seven day period - with this in mind, Matt and his team select a couple of videos from the show to put onto YouTube. Tonight's selection includes the earlier The Tide and the next song up Yellowstone, which Sarah explains has a direct connection to her son.

Sarah likes to record and play a cover version and tonight she includes several in her set - the next song that Sarah plays is a delicious version of Jean Ritichie's Blue Diamond Mine.

Although the majority of tonight's set concentrates on the new album - Sarah also dips into her first album When Two Lovers Meet gives us Johnny Lad.

Sarah then turns to her second album, I Won't Go Home 'til Morning too with a spirited version of Only An Emotion.

Sarah now lives down in Cornwall - and I don't want to give away the stories that Sarah tells in her show but one I cannot help telling for obvious reasons is the fact that Sarah has recorded an album with Zoe Pollock, who is a neighbour, - now this Zoe is the one of Sunshine On A Rainy Day fame and Sarah includes the title track from that project - Crow Coyote Buffalo tonight.

In Yellowstone, Sarah sang about an incident with her young. With the final song in the set - track one from her The Plum Tree & The Rose album - Lift You Up And Let You Fly - is about her daughter and was incredibly moving. You could indeed literally hear a pin drop and I'm sure I saw several people with tears in their eyes after this song.

My favourite track on Walking Into White is Leave It For Another Day and I was SO glad that Sarah decided to play this live. And it was equally as stunning live. 

As I stated earlier, Sarah does like a cover version and for the first song of a two song encore she gives a receptive Convent audience a truly gorgeous version of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, which is also the final track on Walking Into White.

The final song of a truly gorgeous set tonight was a version of the crooner classic Mr Bojangles - I've never heard an acoustic guitar version of this song - my favourite has always been the Sammy Davis Jnr version - but this was unexpected and excellent.

And there endth my first Convent gig - and it definitely won't be the last - as I've got several booked over the next few months - it's a gorgeous venue with superb sound and atmosphere. 
Get yourself down there.

And it won't be the last time I see Sarah McQuaid either - she's a captivating performer with a gorgeous voice, superb collection of albums and a truly adventurous musical nature. Seek her out, right now.

Twitter - @sarahmcquaid