Live review: Songwriting Live, Bristol (24 June ’14)
Our series of showcase events featuring the cream of southwest UK songwriting talent continues… isn’t it time you came along?
uesday 24 June saw some of the southwest’s finest songwriting talent gathered once more in the intimate surrounds of The Fringe bar in Clifton, Bristol, for the sixth Songwriting Live showcase event. Joining our hosts Sarah Menage, Pete Brandt and Andy Davis on this occasion were Vincent Brown, Tammi Payne, Nicky Johns and James Hollingsworth.
Andy Davis kicked off the evening’s proceedings with Bread And Water, “a simple song of unrequited love” with a James Taylor-ish feel. Next came Emily, which Andy described as “a country hoedown kind of thing… only without the fiddles it’s more down, less hoe”. “Emily, if you’re so smart,” demanded the lyric, “How come you always end up with a broken heart?”. Andy’s set concluded with Why Don’t You Finish What You Start?, which saw Andy moving to piano and playing some lovely jazzy chords to underpin the Elvis Costello-like lyrics.
Fellow host Pete Brandt then took to the stage. Pete began with the Viv Stanshall-esque When The Moon, a simple love ballad, which was followed by a work-in-progress entitled A Small Map Of Heaven. Inspired, Pete informed us, by a Picasso portrait of a young woman with whom the painter was besotted, this song had the touching chorus “He’ll take the point and the copperplate/roll the ink and demonstrate/crosshatching that can bear the weight of love.”
Next it was the turn of the first of the evening’s guests, Vincent Brown. Once active on the Bristol live music circuit, Vincent has been away from the music scene for many years while raising a family but has recently picked up his guitar again, and so treated us to three songs written at different times of his life. The most recent, Go Home, was a tale of drunken nights out, written for an Irish folk band but with observational lyrics reminiscent of Difford & Tilbrook.
That was followed by the Crowded House-ish Bridge St, a song Vincent wrote at the age of 20 while walking home from a party, and that he assured us “isn’t about selling yourself on the street, despite what my Mum thought!”. Vincent then moved to the piano for his final number, Helplessly, an ode to “my first unrequited love” that he wrote at the tender age of 14. Despite some apparent nerves, Vincent put in a sterling performance and it’s good to see such an obvious songwriting talent back in the game!
Last to perform before the interval was Tammy Payne. Something of a Bristol veteran, Tammy has worked with the likes of Smith & Mighty and Boca 45, as well as appearing on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood label under her Jukes alias. Tammy began with Talk To Me Instead, a plainitive, downtempo R&B song addressed to someone who’s besotted by someone else. Next came “a song about snow… sorry it couldn’t be more topical!”, followed by A Land All At Sea, “a song about not being afraid to be yourself”, and Singing Peaches En Regalia, which was inspired by singing along to the Frank Zappa song of (nearly) the same name on the radio. Fans of Liane La Havas or Beth Orton would do well to check out Tammy’s website, and look out for her new album – coming soon.
After Tammy’s performance, Pete, Andy and Vincent returned to the stage for the first of the evening’s Q&A sessions, a lively affair in which the four artists fielded questions on such topics as their choice of instrument to write on, the strangest places they’ve ever written a song, whether they’ve ever written a song in another language, the importance (or otherwise) of rhyme, how they would define a song as ‘successful’ and whether songwriting is a form of therapy, or a form of curse…
One short interval later, it was the turn of Nicky Johns to entertain us. Playing barefoot and standing, Nicky opened with A Long Velvet Night, a folk-y ballad which she described as “a complete work of fiction” and which, interestingly, she said she wrote “to set myself the challenge of writing a song with only two chords”. Never mind the chord-count, though – what impressed us the most was the strong voice, redolent of the mighty Stevie Nicks, that belied Nicky’s petite frame. Carpet Of Stars came next, a song with an intriguing genesis – it was written while walking on freshly-laid tarmac on an icy winter’s night. Nicky concluded her set with More Love, which she amusingly introduced as “the first song of requited love of the evening”.
James Hollingsworth was next up, taking to the stage with an impressive array of kit that included a whole rack of pedals and a harmonica as well as the obligatory electro-acoustic. James opened with One Saturday, a song which he said “was written on a four-track and came all at once” and which sounded a little like James Blunt doing folk. Sooner Or Later came next, a track from James’s 2007 album Coming Home To Stay that sounded a little like the early work of Chris De Burgh (before the 80s power-ballad days). James’s last number was Some Say, a rockier affair that gave the evening a welcome energy boost… though it wasn’t a song that came easily. He wrote the words in 2002, he told us, but the melody didn’t come along until 2012. Proof that you should never throw away those half-finished songs and pages of scribbled notes!
Finally, our esteemed compere Sarah Menage sat down at the keyboard, opening with a lounge-y, tongue-in-cheek feminist lament entitled I Want A Willy. In complete contrast, next came the tender but ultimately bittersweet love ballad Always, which was followed by another melancholic love song, Love You Forever, with the touching chorus, “I’m gonna love your forever, if that’s all right/I’m gonna love you forever and a night”.
With seven artists having played instead of the usual six, the hour was getting late and so the second Q&A session of the night had to be kept brief. But Sarah, James and Nicky did have time to discuss such ideas as how long it takes to write a song, the difficulty of remembering lyrics on stage (and tricks that can help if you’re prone to forgetting), whether a song’s production is or should be considered at the songwriting stage, how you know when a song’s ‘long enough’, and whether it’s important for a song to tell a story or make a point.
After that, up came the house lights, and it was time to pack away the guitars and head for home… but we’ll be back at The Fringe next month. Why not come along?
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