Our showcase at London’s Water Rats welcomed 60s legend Sandie Shaw, with performances from Paulaa, McGoozer and Little Brother Eli
hursday 30 April saw Songwriting return to the Water Rats, in our nation’s capital, for another installment of cracking ‘edutainment’ courtesy of the Featured Artists Coalition and Success Express Music. As with previous events, the night was a tale of two halves, starting with a guest appearance from an FAC member to impart their expertise and answer questions, before turning into a Songwriting live showcase, featuring bands carefully selected and introduced by Success Express Music.
This month’s resident expert was none other than 60s pop legend Sandie Shaw, who has an active role on the FAC’s board of directors. Launched into worldwide stardom by Adam Faith’s manager in 1964, Sandie was the first British act to win the Eurovision Song Contest in 1967, and the ‘barefooted pop princess’ became one of the most successful female singers of the decade. Now, benefiting from the awareness and knowledge that almost 50 years in the music industry has provided her, Sandie was introduced by the FAC’s CEO Paul Pacifico and took a seat on the stage, to answer questions from the audience.
With the charisma and energy that has served her so well over the years, Sandie started by explaining her role at the FAC – dealing with existing record industry infrastructure, empowering artists and guiding young musicians in how to build a viable career – before reflecting on her meteoric rise to stardom and subsequent post-fame rollercoaster ride. From reluctant performances on Top Of The Pops and enjoyable TV appearances on Ready Steady Go!, to early jet-setting visits behind the Iron Curtain and even a hitherto unsuspected diplomatic role, Sandie told a fascinating tale of surreal highs and crushing lows dished out by the pop music industry. In the process, she was able to answer questions about the exploitation of young artists, how she’d taken control of her career, as well as offering advice to the female artists in the room.
Sandie also talked about working with songwriter Chris Andrews and recording with The Smiths in the early 80s, as well as sharing some forthright opinions about the drawbacks of “being a brand” in the modern industry and the controversy over Tidal. Although stating that, “in my entire life, I have never known such greed,” Sandie seemed hopeful for change, adding that the music industry is adapting and that can only be a good thing. She finished by hinting of a return to life as a recording artist, expressing a desire to record songs in different languages, before revealing that a collection of a Grease covers and maybe even a Smiths songbook was on the cards.
After a short break, our showcase event hosted by Success Express Music kicked off with Paulaa taking the stage first. Hailing from Poland and Malta, but now based in the UK, Paulaa Klupsch performed with emotion and the jazzy pop style of Amy Winehouse, accompanied by a female keyboard player adding backing vocals. Their first few songs dealt with the yearning topic of love and loss, followed by Breathe which was a little more sparse and fragile, before a surprise cover version: Awolnation’s Sail. Although not demonstrating Paulaa’s songwriting ability, the cover showcased her powerful vocal delivery and picked up the pace of the set, giving the singer an excuse to stand up and really ‘own’ the stage. Then, for the final song We Are Lights, the Amy Winehouse similarities returned, but with a nod to the likes of Adele.
Next up we had the pleasure of a set from McGoozer, more affectionately known as McGoo, who we discovered is brother of 80s pop sensation Owen Paul and has another sibling who used to be in Simple Minds. Naturally, expectations were raised but McGoo’s own talent on acoustic guitar and lead vocals shone through from the start, as he performed some emotive songs with commercial appeal, accompanied by a two-piece string section made up of Stephanie and Natalie.
They started with Breathe Again, an Ed Sheeran-esque number which set the tone, followed by a new song called Raindrops which McGoo admitted was “almost finished”. Although his forthcoming album was recorded mostly in Nashville, there was no denying the McGoozer sound possesses a Celtic twist, but it was the consistently high standard of songwriting that means these tracks could easily find a home on Radio 2. His next song Easy To Love You provided another taste of the next McGoozer long-player, then came Stand Up which was taken from the Walk Run Fly EP, before McGoo finishing with a couple of break-up songs which were reminiscent of Gary Barlow.
Our headline act of this evening, Little Brother Eli – a five-piece, blues-rock outfit from Oxford – certainly looked like a serious proposition, with some sharp dressing (think a smarter Mumford & Sons crossed with Kaiser Chiefs) that was matched by a razor-sharp performance. Filling the stage with presence and a heavyweight sound along the lines of The Black Crowes, their set kicked off with Who Do You, which morphed into the bluesier end of Led Zep. Although the band only formed just over two years ago, Little Brother Eli have clearly been working hard to gel and tonight’s gig showcased their handling of dynamics, offering plenty of light and shade, rather than the predictable loud-soft transition.
Vocalist Alex Grew also surprised us with some syllable-packed vocal gymnastics that took the band into Red Hot Chili Peppers territory, but his revealing lyrical inspirations were even more interesting – introducing Oceans as a “song about my lifelong fear of swimming”. Elsewhere, between the almost Gothic, sleazy blues and heavy-riffing funk-rock elements, the band revealed some possible Britpop influences along the lines of Ocean Colour Scene, and even Lynyrd Skynyrd-esque country-folk in Smoky Joe’s Cafe. But then it was soon back to familiar ground with the urban blues of Animal Fair and, ending with a more mainstream cross-over number, Little Brother Eli wrapped up an exciting 10-song set that gave a very good account of the Oxfordshire blues-rockers. Definitely ones to watch.
And with that, our hostess Lorraine from Success Express Music wrapped things up and, once again, we at Songwriting found ourselves very proud to be involved in the event with them and the FAC. With rumours of our previous cover star being likely to be the next FAC’s guest speaker, we left The Water Rats with a satisfied spring in our step and looking forward to the next one on Thursday 28 May. Details will be announced here shortly.