Six of the southwest’s finest singer-songwriters gathered in Clifton’s Fringe Bar to play Songwriting Live – our monthly acoustic showcase
ith the summer rolling gently to a close and the festival season screaming to a sigh, Tuesday August 26 saw the return of Songwriting’s monthly opportunity to remind ourselves that music is the finest cure for the dreaded onset of ennui. Yet again housed in the familiar and welcoming Bristol Fringe Bar, the night saw the return of stalwarts Andy Davis and Sarah Ménage joined by young upstarts Beth Porter, Lewis Creaven, Gina Griffin and Natasha Nicole.
First up was Andy, who began the evening by going back to the future and playing the opening track from his first Songwriting Live performance. Baby, Good For You lost none of its charm second time round and formed a lovely contrast to the bluesy All I Do Is Dream Of You; which Andy described as “a song I wrote a couple of years ago but sounds like something from the 1920s… I hope!” He closed his set by poking his head into the sound of Neil Young and making himself happily at home.
Drummer-cum-guitarist Natasha Nicole was next up. She began with the confession that the guitar was an instrument that she shared mainly with herself. It was a admission that her performance made barely believable, as she treated the audience to three gems that touched upon Britpop (English Rain), folk (Time Against This) and alt-country Surrender. With her music day job being the stick holder for Jump The Shark, it may be time for Natasha to to let the guitar take a little more of the stage.
Following Natasha was the classic folk-songstress Beth Porter. Though she advised the songs to be ones she’d written a little while earlier — “I do have some new ones, but I’m not brave enough to play them tonight” — this only emphasised how well composed they were; she’d clearly spent time perfecting them. A writer in the vein of Cat Power, Moldy Peaches and R.E.M.’s Automatic For The People, it was perhaps on the murder ballad Salty Water where her songwriting was at its darkest and finest. Though both Open Doors and These Days were infectiously bittersweet.
It was then time for the first round of questions from the eager audience, keen to snap up the trio’s songwriting experience. Andy advised the difference between writing music now and aged 17 to be the lyrics, explaining “I didn’t use to write the lyrics.” Revealingly age was shown to be no barrier to taking your first steps into songwriting, as though Andy and Natasha wrote their first songs aged 13 and 12 respectively, Beth’s first song was not written until she was 25. So whatever the age, if you’ve yet to do so, now’s the time to begin take your first venture into the world of songwriting!
After a brief interlude our host Sarah then took the stage for the evening’s fourth performance. She started by “getting spiritual” — with a song she’d not played previously — before changing tack and rolling out a song that had been requested “a long time ago.” A lovely number, it displayed Sarah’s fine craft for melody and had the audience aching. She ended with a song debuted at last month’s Songwriting Live, one that saw her “fall off the horse last month.” This time there was no such issue and the witty lyrics spoke for themselves, with an acerbic dissection of relationships.
Next among the new blood was violinist Gina Griffin. The first songwriter to take the violin as their weapon, hers was a selection of Irish tinged folk numbers that displayed her professionalism. Keeping true to the subject of time, she played a song that she’d not played for 19 years, one she wrote for her son. The family theme continued with her final song, one that she wrote for her mother, when she was given only three months to live. It was both a fitting tribute and fine end to her set.
Last, but certainly not least was Lewis Creaven. Another songwriter with a band day job—but this time one who wielded an axe in both roles—he also took folk of the emerald isle as his inspiration. Opening with Once In A While, his was a performance that displayed his supreme musicianship; a grasp of chords that the most experienced of players would be envious of. He followed with the delightful folk of Free Love, before ending with a ballad inspired by his Irish heritage. The Exile Of Tony McBride was guilty of only one failing, it ended too soon. We’ll get back to this though.
The last batch of questions for the bright eyed songwriters saw Gina pressed on why she chose to combine singing with playing the violin. Her answer? She was busking in France and it just came naturally. Lewis was also asked if he approached his songs with a sense of longing. He replied that he feels a sense of longing and an affinity for Ireland and that to write a good song it has to be “both personal and universal”.
The evening finished with a group songwriter sing-a-long, as Gina and Beth joined Lewis for a rendition of The Exile Of Tony McBride. As far as endings go, this was near perfect and the audience’s reaction acknowledged as much, with each member visibly elated by the performance.
So concluded another Songwriting Live and what was perhaps the best of the lot, thus far. September, the bar has been set and you’ll need to have the leap of Dick Fosbury to be able to get over it.
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 email@example.com