Anyone doubtful that the UK can produce musicians capable of both writing and performing Americana needed to be at Bush Hall this evening where students past and present from this Kilburn (in North West London) based college demonstrated their undeniable talents. It was the final of a series of similar events, each featuring a different musical genre, and the college’s head of songwriting, Sophie Daniels was the evening’s host both performing herself and introducing each artist who, Nashville style, took it in turns to explain the inspiration behind three of their compositions before playing them. Seated in an actual circle in the middle of this beautiful hall, the audience surrounding them, there was a fabulously intimate atmosphere at this pretty large venue and throughout the evening the audience (a mix it seemed of other songwriting students, friends and family of the performers, Americana fans and industry insiders) were both attentive and appreciative. Special guest was Ben Earle (of The Shires fame) who also got to perform his three songs of choice and was interviewed half way through the evening, he seemed genuinely interested and impressed by the students and was often harmonising and mirroring guitar chords as the others performed. He was also incredibly interesting and had a great sense of humour….for instance one of his “top tips” was that if you don’t want to / can’t write a song’s middle eight then just repeat a bit of the first verse as by that point in the song no one will remember it! Not sure if that is something the college teaches!!
As much as I’d like to write about all the songs showcased, I’m limiting my review to my personal favourite by each performer…..oh and by the way, thankfully for this site there was a strong female representation but I’m sure the two male artists won’t be too upset at being labelled “ honorary Belles and Gals” for the sake of this article! So, here I go….in the order in which they performed…..
1. Sophie Daniels ( Head of Songwriting at ICMP) I don’t think I was the only audience member to be practically reduced to tears when she sang ” I Can Love You From Here” which she introduced by saying it was about what you do with your love for someone when they aren’t in your life anymore. In fact, to be specific, it was written after her daughter Liberty died at birth in 2011. She said how the college tutors ask the students to be brave and write about personal experiences, and you can’t get a much more personal song than that for sure! With its beautiful keyboard accompaniment you could have heard a pin drop during the performance. A subject that could have resulted in an over sentimental, cheesy composition it was neither, and lines that stood out for me included ” I don’t need to be with you to love you like I planned” . It got one of the loudest rounds of applause of the night!
2. Hannah Rose Platt Originally from Liverpool, Hannah graduated from ICMP in 2010 and with one album under her belt (Portraits, recorded in Nashville) is currently working on her second which will include “Checkmate” which she performed at this event and which is a great example of her love for storytelling songs. An accomplished guitar player and strong vocalist as well as a competent writer, she is your perfect “all rounder”. She admitted that this song is a more personal one than most of her others (which are generally about other people). A clever composition in 6/8 time, referencing the game of chess while being about trying to escape the clutches of someone who has you under their influence and is controlling the relationship, with lines like “ it’s hard to play when the rules keep changing” it’s one that definitely made me think and want to hear it again.
3. Conor Dunmore First year student Conor was the only name unfamiliar to me, and if he was nervous performing with these much more experienced artists it didn’t show. On acoustic guitar, his material and performance may have lacked the finesse of the others ( he was recovering from “ man flu he told us) but it was impressive to see such raw talent. His song in the first round was “ Don’t Call It Misery” which he told us was written about his hometown ( sorry, I don’t know where that is!) where everyone is looking for something to cling on to as there’s nothing to do, and where drink and drugs are popular crutches…..“ This place has driven me to Jack and Jim”. It was a well constructed song, building to a crescendo before being brought back down again at the end.
4. Jessica Sharman It took me a while to realise where I knew this name from, in fact it was through reviewing Ward Thomas’ “Cartwheels” album as Jess ( as I think she likes to be called?) has co-written a lot of the tracks with the sisters. Like Hannah, Jess is a college alumni ( class of 2011) who admitted to being a nervous performer as she’s more used to being behind the scenes ( she’s also a producer) but this didn’t show, whether on keys or guitar she gave some fabulous performances in each round. Her second song choice was “ Miss Nobody” , inspired by a friend being suspicious of her man’s whereabouts and when she decided to follow him one evening found out he was attending a “ party for two” and totally forgetting about her existence. “ If it’s ok I’ll do something different” she said before performing of this one, then explained how she was at the Green Note watching a gig the previous week when the artist unexpectedly asked her to join her on stage and that as the same artist ( and friend) was in the audience tonight she was going to get her own back and ask her to return the favour…..and that’s how come we were treated to Liv Austen’s beautiful vocals blending with Jess’s during this song.
5. Kaity Rae In her final year at this music college, Kaity is already a familiar name on the live music circuit and when I first saw her earlier this year her writing and performing really impressed me. As she’s nearing the end of her student life she felt it appropriate to perform “ Too Young to be Growing Up”, the most commercial of the songs I’ve decided to write about with it’s catchy, singalong chorus ( yes the audience did join in!) in which she sings about how she really doesn’t feel ready to be an adult out there in the “ real world” just yet….”Don’t think I’m going to find the answers, the questions keep changing with every day”. It was also one of the more upbeat songs performed getting my toes tapping, the pop side of Americana, and I can really see this song being very popular with a younger audience in particular. She is very strong vocally, particularly her upper range, and a confident performer. Ben Earle said after she’d finished that he had been a big fan of Kaity’s for a long time and that he should have written that song! She has already released two EP’s and is a name to keep an eye on for sure.
6. Ben EarleAs well as performing the ever popular, very clever, Shires song “State Lines” Ben played two new compositions during the evening and my favourite was his final offering. Written about the fact that although he isn’t actually married to his long-term partner/ finance ( they have a young son together too) which is something people he met during trips to Nashville found hard to understand it really doesn’t matter as everything about their relationship is exactly like that of a married couple. Yes, it was pretty saccharine sweet but there aren’t many out and out love songs these days it seems and this definitely ticked that box! Entitled “ Sure Sounds Married To Me” ( I think!) lines included “ all you are is all I ever need”, “ we have lived on laughter, tasted tears” , “ you can count on me darling ’til the last breath I breathe “ . He said it was the most honest and literal song he has ever written ,and is definitely not one destined for The Shires! I have heard Ben say in the past that he’s a songwriter who sings, and during the aforementioned interview with Sophie during the evening it was his burning passion for writing that was undeniable, whether collaborating and bouncing ideas off other people or tackling a solo write.
All in all this was a fantastic evening, thank you to all who worked so hard to put it together. I am a huge fan of these type of events ( at C2C my favourite night is always the Thursday before it kicks off for real, the CMA Songwriters Series) and I hope that we will see a growing number of such evenings over here. Who knows, maybe Belles and Gals will host one of their own at some point? Watch this space!