Live review: Songwriting Live, Bristol (25 February ’14)
Local songwriters returned for the second incarnation of our monthly Live event, with another six stirring performances illuminating the evening
fter the roaring success that was January’s maiden Songwriting Live event, February 25 saw the return to Bristol’s Fringe Bar of our three hosts, Andy Davis (of Stackridge/Korgis fame), Pete Brandt and Sarah Ménage, with another three sterling songwriters joining the trio, for a sequel every bit as good as the original. Taking the stage with Andy, Sarah and Pete were the cement-and-honey-voiced blues songwriter, Palmer Fox Eldrich, Bristol-based, French-born piano balladeer Cecile Lemaire and Andy’s former Strackridge bandmate Mutter Slater.
The evening was again commenced by our three hosts taking the stage to utilise their trio of musical talents, starting with Andy Davis. Taking the subject of a ‘moody guy’ as its topic, it was a deep and engaging number, one that set the audience up perfectly for our first solo performance of the evening. Before rolling into the delicate, All I Dream Of Is You, Andy explained that his inspiration had been to “write a song that already sounds old.” As its subtle, folk-infected tones crept from his guitar it was clear that Andy’s was a muse of sound choice; its was a quality of timelessness that might have seen the hands of a clock recede into dust.
This was followed by the similarly melodic The One Who Called You Sweetheart, which Andy described as about “not realising you have a light shining for someone until they have gone.” His set was closed by If I Had You, a Korgis song that was a variation on Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody On A Theme of Paganini. A hit single for the Korgis in 1979, reaching number 13 in the UK charts, Andy joked that he thought he might “sneak the similarity past Rachmaninov.”
Next to take the stage was Pete Brandt. Playing his first song, Lining Up For Saturday, on the Cuatro, Puerto Rico’s national instrument, he was the witty and acerbic wordsmith of his inaugural performance, a quality that shone through in his next two numbers. Small Man, Big Head, was a song about a friend Pete had bumped into and was taken by his singular ability to speak solely of himself. Finishing with Osmosis, Pete likened sexual attraction to an illness, equating it to his art by claiming that “being a songwriter is a sort of mental illness.”
It was then the turn of hostess Sarah Menagé to venture to the front of the audience. Taking the piano as her instrument of choice and a fiery lyricism as her weapon, her grave melodies formed the perfect contrast to her tales of fractured romance and the desire to explain one’s place in the world. Two To Tango and Stars And The Moon gave us the former, while the latter sentiment was encapsulated by middle number A Dangerous Age, a song that mused on what you could do before you ‘go away’.
After three performances peppered with bite and melody, the audience was given the opportunity to delve into the songwriting secrets of Andy, Pete and Sarah, as they opened the floor to questions on how they developed their craft. Particularly revealing were the response to the question of music that had inspired the three, with Andy stating that Cole Porter’s Night And Day was the song he most wished to have written. Pete took Johnny Mercer’s One For My Baby (And One More For The Road). Sarah was uncertain of the author but assured in her belief that she would have liked to have written “something old.”
Sarah went on to regale her listeners with the story of her time spent on the other side of the fence, when working in the PR arena for Real World Music. She explained how the artists of WOMAD had regarded their songs as not mere commodities, but parts of themselves. It was a sentiment rich in the work of herself, Andy and Pete.
After the Q&A reached its end it was the turn of Palmer Fox Eldrich to grab the audience by the scruff of the beard. Beginning with Just Away, Eldritch’s slightly swampy blues numbers were explained as being something that Fox had to release, with the riffs, melodies and lyrics ‘floating around inside, until I’ve done something with them’. Just Away was followed by the Neil Young-esque High Wire. The South West Songwriter-winning Shake My Tree saw Fox end by confessing that it takes him years to know what his songs are about; ‘was it a love song or an obsessive song’?
As that question was still taking root in the thoughts of the crowd, it was the turn of French songwriter Cecile Lemaire to take the mood out of the swamp and let it walk among the weeping willows. Her songs had a touching quality to them, with You Don’t Have To Love M, leaving you wanting to wrap your arms around it and keep its fragile melody out of harm’s way. Though it wasn’t only sadness that Lemaire traded in: there was a real bounce to You Shine and Your Love Is Not Enough had a wry, Randy Newman-ish quality.
Rounding up the night’s performances was the delightfully named former Stackridge member, Mutter Slater. Opening with Excuse Me Ma’am, a song that Slater described as being “lyrically my Maggie May,” listeners were treated to some rip-roaring blues riffs that gave the sense that Mutter’s finger tips would end the night rubbed down to the bone. I May Not Be An Angel continued this theme, before Pig In The Middle closed with a softer tone, one that sounded close to the excellent Portland indie-folker Pete Krebs. As the final notes settled, it was time for the final Q & A session, with Palmer, Cecile and Mutter fielding the eager questions.
Cecile was pressed on why she elected to write songs in English, rather than her native French. Her response was intriguingly that it was easier because it was her second language, something that allowed a sense of dislocation. The theme of displacement was pressed further by the audience, eager to know whether the three wrote more frequently from their own experiences, or taking inspiration elsewhere. Mutter’s approach was to “find a topic” something he could “hook a song onto”, while Palmer saw his songwriting not so much as a choice, but as an “impulse, something which is impossible to repress; like giving birth.”
With that there was time for just one more song. Andy, Sarah and Pete returned to the stage to end Songwriting’s second event as the first began, with another stirring performance of Bristol Songwriter Blues.
And that was it. As light crept from out of the shadows, the joy of performer and audience member alike was clear for all to see. Who said sequels can’t stand up to the original?
Words: Damien Girling Photos: Tessa Beeching
If you’d like to perform at a Songwriting Live event in Bristol – or if you’d be interested in hosting Songwriting Live in your own town – then send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org