Songwriting Live @ The Water Rats, London (2 April ’15)
Our second live showcase at London’s Water Rats saw killer sets from Jesse Gamage, Sadie Jemmett and The Doppler Shift
n Thursday 2 April, Team Songwriting once more headed off to The Water Rats in London’s King Cross for a night of musical education and entertainment, in association with the Featured Artists Coalition (FAC) and Success Express Music (SEM). As with the inaugural event back in January, the evening was a two-part affair, with FAC and SEM presenting a guest speaker and discussion early doors, and SEM and Songwriting hosting a live music showcase later on.
The guest speaker on this occasion was Keith Harris, a man who’s forgotten more about the music industry than most of us will ever learn. Keith began by talking us through a career that started with him managing a friend’s band and becoming Entertainments Co-Ordinator at Dundee University in 1970, then a radio plugger for a small folk label. That led him into a promotions role at Motown in the 70s, after which he relocated to LA for several years to become Stevie Wonder‘s manager. Back in the UK in the 80s and 90s he managed successful soul artists including Junior Giscombe, Omar and Lynden David Hall, before becoming chairman of the Music Managers Forum from 1998 to 2001.
Currently Keith is chairman of Music Tank, a ‘neutral information hub’ for the UK music industry, and Director of Performer Affairs at PPL (formerly Phonographic Performance Ltd). As such, he was the ideal person to give the assembled audience a beginner’s guide to the ins and outs of copyright and royalty collection in the UK, which he did in exemplary, idiot-proof fashion. Even we understood it…
The Q&A session that followed proved lively and informative, with Keith fielding questions on everything from royalties from streaming services to the role of the manager in the contemporary music industry, how an artist can find a decent manager and at what stage of their career they should do so. And if that sounds dull… it certainly wasn’t, not when it was all peppered with anecdotes from his own career. Stories that began “I was backstage with Stevie at Wembley and he said, ‘I want you to get Michael on stage for the encore” or “So Quincy Jones called me up one day…” had the audience – and us – enthralled, so a big thanks to Keith for taking time out to come along and share some of his knowledge!
After a short interval, it was then time for the live music part of the evening. First to perform was soul singer-songwriter Jesse Gamage, who demonstrated the range of possibilities offered by an acoustic guitar, some beatboxing chops and a loop pedal. He opened with Breathe, a blues-tinged ballad featuring the great line “When I breathe you in, the air tastes like sin”, which was followed by “a nice little romantic ditty I wrote for my lady friend” called Feels Like Home. It was a nice song in a vaguely Newton Faulkner-ish style, but what impressed most was Jesse’s inventive use of his loop pedals, not just layering up his own backing vocals but also creating a beat out of the sounds of him breathing and tapping the microphone. Recent single Turbulence came next, the tale of a relationship that’s on the rocks, but the highlight of Jesse’s set in Songwriting‘s humble opinion was closer Proud, “a song about what it’s like to grow up in a city like this” that hit a little harder and that featured a Maxi Jazz-ish spoken/rap section. Imagine Omar jamming with Akala and you’re somewhere in the ballpark!
Next to take the stage was Sadie Jemmett, another solo singer-songwriter who’s already had a fair degree of success writing songs for musical theatre. Sadie performed all her songs unaccompanied but for her acoustic guitar, starting with So I Begin, a song that was like the missing link between Shania Twain and Sinead O’Connor. Her second song, Adventures In Sobriety, took us to a darker place: a country-tinged ballad somewhat reminiscent of a female Nick Cave, it’s told from the point of view of an alcoholic in the early stages of recovery. The alcoholic in question was a close friend, Sadie informed us, who used to call her up when he was struggling… and Sadie had clearly listened and absorbed, with harrowing but ultimately optimistic lines like “I hit the bottle and the bottle hit me right back/Now God knows I’m trying to get my life back on track”.
London Love Songs came next, the title track from Sadie’s new album. A tale of lost love remembered fondly, London Love Songs had a folky feel and echoes too of Billy Bragg, with lines like “I’m living up east now, just past Stamford Hill/where the houses are cheap and the people are real”. The next song was Five Songs I Noticed As I Walked To Camden Square, which Sadie dedicated to “one of my all-time heroes Joni Mitchell” (who’d been taken seriously ill the day before, as Songwriting reported at the time) and in which she showed off some very dextrous fingerpicking that recalled Fairport Convention. Sadie then finished with Come Down, a more thrashy affair “about bad men and drugs”.
Our final act of the evening were The Doppler Shift. Formed in 2012, the four-piece band are currently riding high after one of their tracks, Hush House, featured in HBO’s adaptation of JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy. They opened with the twisted urban blues of Telltale Signs Of Giving Up, taken from 2013’s Hush House EP. That was followed by another track from the same EP, High State Of Entropy – a Muse/Radiohead-ish barrage of densely layered noise and fragile vox, with a classical piano interlude in the middle and an eventual climax redolent of Pink Floyd’s Eclipse. They then gave us Hush House itself, another very Radiohead-esque cut (it’s soft! it’s loud! and then it’s soft again!) whose TV exposure, singer-guitarist Joe informed us, has garnered the band “a quarter of a million YouTube views… and about eight likes”.
Next up was Path Of Least Resistance, which with its wobbly Waldorf synth intro and near-falsetto vocal from Joe called James Blake to mind. If albums still had sides, then Path… would have “side two, track two” written all over it: it’s the epic, exhausting listen that you realise the rest of the album so far has only been building up to. Empty Souls followed, which featured a funkier bassline but which, like much of the band’s material, probably needs to be heard in a stadium rather than a small London pub for maximum effect. They finished with The Man Who Was Forever Haunted By His Head. By this time, Songwriting‘s eyes were on the clock – we had a last train back to Bristol to catch, tearing out the door as the final chords died down – and so our notes for this one simply read “long atmospheric electronic intro” and “wandering round an abandoned fairground tripping”. Make of that what you will!
All told, it was another great night at The Water Rats, so big Songwriting thanks go to the venue and its hardworking sound techs, Lorraine Solomons at Success Express for organising it all, Fiona McGugan at FAC for hosting the discussion, Keith Harris for his fascinating talk and, of course, Jesse, Sadie and The Doppler Shift. Our next Water Rats event is on 30 April, with a very special guest we’d love to tell you about but aren’t allowed to yet…