Live review: Songwriting Live, Bristol (29 April ’14)
Our series of showcase gigs featuring songwriting talent from across the southwest (and beyond, if you wanna come play?) continues
he date was 29 April 2014, the place was The Fringe in Clifton, Bristol and the event, of course, was Songwriting Live – our monthly event live showcase of songwriting talent from across the southwest. On this occasion, our hosts Andy, Sarah and Pete were joined by Dave Brown, Jane Taylor, Ali George and Songwriting’s very own publisher, Aaron Slater.
After the now traditional opening, Sarah’s Bristol Songwriter Blues performed by all three of the hosts, Sarah got the ball rolling with two more songs. Love In A Wet Climate is a “little ditty about Englishness” inspired by Sarah’s own novel of the same name, and featured some clever rhymes – we particularly liked “How can you relax/in your wellies and macs?” – while Determined To Be Sad told the story of a night out with friends when not really in a social mood.
Andy Davis was next up. He opened with Chrysler Girl, a Dylan-does-country affair he co-wrote with Brighton’s Gus Ferguson, inspired by the architecture of the Chrysler building in New York. Next up was Night Fishing, a song about the young ladies of Havana, Cuba that Tom Petty or Jackson Browne would be proud of. Andy then closed with, Marching Down The Road, a ‘work in progress’ that he’s co-writing with Sarah, and that he introduced by saying, “This is in G minor, the miserable chord… because it’s a particularly miserable song, with religious nutcase lyrics.”
Dave Brown of local legends The Shrinks then took to the stage with his blend of country and folk stylings. Smells Like Elvis was Dave’s first offering, a song about “sex changes, plastic surgery and tribute bands”. Next came Yeah No (I Love Her So), a song Dave was inspired to write after a near-stranger bent his ear in a bar about his ‘complicated’ relationship with his OCD-suffering wife, before Dave finished with Cheap Wine & Daytime TV – an “old new song,” in Dave’s words, the lyrics of which apparently spent 15 years sitting in a bottom drawer! It’s a song about ageing and regret, with the chorus lines of “If I’d known then, what I know today/Could have mixed the same colours and not got grey” striking us as particularly poignant.
Bringing the first round of performances to a close was Jane Taylor, who as well as writing and performing runs songwriting workshops across Somerset. Jane started with Blowing This Candle Out, a gentle, acoustic affair with a nicely understated ending that reminded this writer a little of The Sundays. Crazy For The Boy, which followed, came as a complete contrast, with Jane’s voice opening up into a full-on blues-y roar. “I like to try different hats on, so this is an upbeat, fun one,” is how Jane described it. Jane’s last song was Hallelujah, a sweet ode to her departed grandmother with its poignant lyrics underpinned by a constant tumble of finger-picked notes.
With three performances down it was time for the evening’s first Q&A session – a very lively one this time, which saw Andy, Sarah, Dave and Jane fielding questions on topics including the merits of using different guitar tunings, writing songs to a commission, dealing with writer’s block, the differences between performing solo and performing with a band, and how friends and lovers react to having songs written about them.
Pete Brandt then kicked off the second half of the evening. His first song was Love Surrounds Us All, a piece about the Riddle of the Sphinx that had something of Dream A Little Dream Of Me about it. Next came A Little Taste Of Venice (definitely something of a travel theme to our hosts’ song selection tonight!), which recalled Ray Davies’ gentler moments (think Afternoon Tea, not All Day And All Of The Night), before Pete finally treated us to a song he’d talked about at several previous Songwriting Live events – Meat, or “the Japanese cannibal song,” its neatly contrasting quiet verses and raucous chords framing such lyrical gems as “The proof is in the pudding/and your hand is in the fridge”.
Our very own Aaron Slater was up next – quite literally following in the footsteps of his Dad, Mutter Slater, who appeared at a previous Songwriting Live. Aaron gave us Stay, a David Gray/Jack Johnson-ish ballad “written in 20 minutes, when I wasn’t really in the mood,” and Miss Opportunity, which ended with a nice bit of whistling on our publisher’s part. However with the first Q&A session having over-run slightly, Aaron had to cut his set short to just two songs.
Our final guest of the evening was Bath’s Ali George, a fine singer-songwriter whose voice and style recall the likes of James Taylor or Cat Stevens. Ali opened with Townhouse Girl, “a fictitious story about a lovelorn guy who’s slightly stalking a young woman, but in a non-threatening way”. Annabelle’s Song came next, a song that takes the form of a conversation between a doting but uncared-for woman and her hard-hearted partner. A very sad song… but you’ll be glad to hear Annabelle sees sense at the end. Ali ended, appropriately enough, with Faded Out, a song about old friends coming back into your life.
With the clock approaching the witching hour, the second Q&A session with Pete, Aaron and Ali was of necessity a little shorter, but Aaron, Ali and Pete did find time to discuss the importance (or otherwise) of bridges and middle-eights, the process of editing that goes on after a song is written, and how lots of seemingly disparate ideas can end up as just one song.
Four events in, it felt tonight as though Songwriting Live was really getting into its stride, with the biggest crowd yet, and more local aspiring songwriters turning up to ask questions in the Q&A sessions. Roll on number 5…
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