Houston “Manuscripts” EP Launch, London, 25th March 2017 – Review by Lesley Hastings

Lauren, Holly-Anne and Charlotte found themselves united by their shared love of country music while still at school. After posting a few videos of their performances on line, something that was just intended as a bit of fun got them quite a following and the girlband Houston was born! Fast forward 5 years, and with the help of Nashville based Rad Records the trio have just released their first EP “ Manuscripts” which impressed us so much ( read our review here http://bellesandgals.com/2018/03/03/houston-manuscripts-ep-review/) that Belles and Gals decided to sponsor it’s official launch at London’s Union Theatre……tickets sold out weeks in advance, an indication of what a bright future lies in store for these three!

It was my first time seeing these ladies live, and I was very interested to see if they lived up to my expectations having listened to the fantastic studio versions of the EP’s three tracks……plus of course I wondered what songs they would add to their set tonight. The venue was in a quirky little side street in Southwark, South East London, the stage adorned with colourful hanging silk, feathers and tea tree lights (electric, no breach of health and safety!) so all was needed was the artists as we waited in anticipation for the music to begin.

There were two support slots (non-country, four songs apiece) before a short break, and first to take to the stage were Alex Morris and Brooke Parrot, performing together for the first time (“we don’t normally do this” we were told before they began!) which was reflected in a nervous start. But as their set progressed they relaxed and Brooke in particular showcased some beautifully rich vocals ( leads were shared, Alex who had written all the songs providing acoustic guitar accompaniment). Matt Harvey followed the duo, and was a much more confident performer from the off. Apparently usually accompanied by New Yorker “ Jessie” ( sorry no surname!) on vocals/cajon his funky style was fun and his guitar playing impressive, his set showcasing his upcoming single “ Who Would Have Thought?”.

But of course it was Houston who everyone was looking forwards to hearing, there was a massive cheer when they appeared and perching themselves on high stools they kicked things off with “ Your Kinda Love’ from the EP. It was immediately obvious that they are as fantastic vocally live as I had hoped, both individually and in harmony, each of them bringing something different to the mix but blending perfectly. Knowing that they all have careers in musical theatre I must admit to having concerns beforehand that their performance would be a bit OTT cheesy, but they were dispelled straight away. Yes there were a few “in jokes” with the audience (who were not the usual country music crowd and I assume were instead largely from a theatrical background, the girls admitted to slightly tailoring their song choices accordingly, see the set list below!) but every song was delivered with genuine heartfelt emotion. Of course, there were light-hearted moments too, but only when the music dictated.

With Lauren on acoustic rhythm guitar (Charlotte and Holly-Anne adding percussion as and when needed) they were accompanied by opener Matt on lead guitar and a bass guitar/cajon rhythm section which was a great and very energetic combination, although i have no doubts that the ladies would sound great on their own in a more stripped back set as it’s their vocals that are the main event! After their opening number they apologised for any sound issues (asking us to signal should we experience them) saying they’d had a nightmare trying to get things sorted, but those worries were unfounded, the only slight criticism I had being Charlotte’s lower harmonies being a little overpowered at times. But nothing that detracted from the performance, honestly ladies! As soon as they realised things were in fact OK, they really began to enjoy themselves and it was clear that they have a fantastic rapport with one another and really enjoy performing together…..Holly-Anne was checking her phone for the set list, and there were genuine squeals of joy and excitement when certain songs were announced!

Country covers included wonderful re-workings of the Dixie Chicks “Cowboy Take Me Away”, Keith Urban’s “Somebody Like You” and “Ain’t Leaving Without Your Love” written for the TV show Nashville by Striking Matches, but even the non-country covers were given a great makeover to suit Houston’s style. In particular I was really impressed with their reworking of Whitney’s “How Will I Know?” and Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose”. The EP had already demonstrated to me what a talented songwriter Lauren is (she’s the group’s writer) but more of her compositions performed during the evening cemented this, particularly beautiful was a song she apparently wrote super-fast for a British Airways competition (to celebrate the new non-stop London-Nashville route) entitled “Home To Me”, a stunner of a love song that I really hope gets recorded.

Their entire set was not only fun to witness (their enthusiasm is definitely contagious, everyone was up on their feet for the final song!) but put me in no doubt that Houston really needs to be heard by a wider audience, they are a hugely talented group in every respect and I hope that what started out as a fun side project for them really gets the credit it deserves.

Talking to them after the show they told me that they definitely have plans afoot for a further EP later this year with an album hopefully to follow in 2019, and with the three of them free from theatre contracts this Summer they are looking to play as many live dates as possible …….of course we will keep you up to speed with their plans!
Meanwhile why not listen to attitude-filled EP track “ Fake” here, with the entire EP available to download at all the usual places! 

Your Kinda Love ( Houston, EP track)
Cowboy Take Me Away ( Dixie Chicks Cover)
What He Sees ( Houston)
Ain’t Leaving Without Your Love ( Nashville Cast/Striking Matches cover)
By My Side ( from “ Godspell ”musical )
Daddy’s Lessons ( Beyonce cover)
Make Me Fall ( Houston)
Soft Place To Land ( from “ Waitress” musical)
Kiss From A Rose ( Seal cover)
Pretty Good Heart ( Houston, EP track)
River ( Leon Bridges cover)
Home To Me ( Houston)
Somebody Like You ( Keith Urban cover)
Fake ( Houston, EP track)
Mmm-Bop ( Hanson cover)
Hold On ( Wilson Phillips cover)

Review written by Lesley Hastings (twitter.com/lesleyhastings)

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