Live review: Songwriting Live, Bristol (28 January ’14)
Six of the southwest’s finest songwriters recently gathered in Bristol to play at Songwriting Live – our new monthly talent showcase
he evening of Tuesday, January 28 saw the inaugural Songwriting Live event taking place at The Fringe music bar in Bristol, with hosts Andy Davis (of Stackridge/Korgis fame), Pete Brandt and Sarah Ménage joined for this first night by Jennifer Crook and Lawrie Duckworth from Bath, and Somerset-based Mike Scott. Known for its jazz sessions and open mic nights, The Fringe, situated in the heart of the chic ‘village’ of Clifton, provided the ideal venue: cosy and intimate with a dedicated performance space in the back room.
The evening got underway with our three hosts joining together for a rousing rendition of the tongue-in-cheek lament Bristol Songwriter Blues, a tale of poor quality soundsystems, unscrupulous promoters and disappearing venues. Sarah Ménage was then first to take the solo spotlight, playing two songs of love and heartache on the Roland FP-7 stage piano. You Know How I Love You and Who Needs A Man?’s clever wordplay and blend of melancholia and humour set the tone perfectly for a night in which we were truly ‘up close and personal’ with some very talented songwriters.
Next up was Andy Davis, who as Sarah pointed out played the very first note at the very first Glastonbury festival (“a B,” chipped in Andy), as well as playing on John Lennon’s Imagine album. Andy treated us to the distinctly Dylan-esque Confidential Heart on guitar before swapping to ukelele for So Many Wrongs, then ending on the piano with 24-Hour Emergency Love, a heartfelt love song it would be easy to imagine being crooned by next year’s X-Factor winner.
Bringing the first half to a close was Pete Brandt, who armed only with an acoustic guitar gave us the vaguely Ray Davies-ish Beneath A Starry Sky and Now That You’re Gone, between which came sandwiched a pastoral ode to “two robins I saw sitting on my garden wall”. Also, Brandt took the opportunity to brandish his latest album – a double-album no less, called Songs From The Basement – which, as Sarah pointed out, features a striking cover designed by artist Kevin O’Keefe.
Sarah, Andy and Pete then came together onstage once more – this time for a Q&A session. Questions came from the audience regarding whether songwriting has to be based upon personal experience, the difficulties of writing songs to a brief and unusual sources of lyrical inspiration. In response to the latter question, Pete shared the tale of how he came to write a song about a Japanese murder, while Andy entertained us with the story behind his song Red Squirrel – written in response to an audience member shouting out for a song that, at that stage, didn’t actually exist.
After a short break, it was then the turn of the three guest artists to do their thing. First up was Jennifer Crook, who gave us two gentle, folk-inspired songs on acoustic guitar – Angel In Disguise and Blue – before swapping to her primary instrument, the harp, for a brand new, rather lovely song called Carnforth Station (which as film buffs will know was the setting for the black and white classic Brief Encounter). Carnforth Station will feature on Jennifer’s third album, to be recorded at Bath’s famous Real World Studios, for which she’s currently seeking crowdfunding – see here for details.
Then it was time for a complete change of mood, as Lawrie Duckworth took to the stage. Dressed like a Wyoming rancher in cowboy hat and sheepskin coat, Lawrie regaled us with the raw and blues-y Long Long Time and a countrified ode to Vincent Van Gogh, before closing with a Hawaiian-tinged song about the death of Captain Cook. Look out for Lawrie’s album Moonshine.
Veteran songwriter Mike Scott was the evening’s final performer. Mike specialises in folk songs with funny lyrics – comparisons with the late Fred Wedlock are hard to avoid, but that’s by no means a bad thing. The first song saw sound engineers coming in for some gentle rib-poking, Old Guys Still Doin’ It namechecked various ageing rockers while the singalong chorus of Leave ‘Em On The Latch (a song about the Pearly Gates) had the whole room joining in – a suitably rousing finale for the main part of the evening’s entertainment. Mike’s latest album, May Contain Nuts, can be downloaded for free from his website.
A second Q&A session then followed, with the three guests fielding questions about the difficulties and benefits of writing on different instruments, about how, when and why they started writing songs (“I wanted to be in front of audiences and I’m a lousy pole-dancer,” quipped Mike) and about their respective influences, before Jenny picked up the harp for one final song. This was the day following the sad death of Pete Seeger, so a rendition of Where Have All The Flowers Gone? complete with full audience participation, just as the bar rang last orders, seemed an apt way to bring the evening to a close.
With a capacity crowd and smiles all round by the end of the night, it’s fair to say the first Songwriting Live event was a roaring success… here’s to many more!
Words: Russell Deeks 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