What a fantastic start to the year, musically in Norwich. It started with another chance to see the uniquely beautiful Wooden Arms, at the Bicycle Shop in Norwich, as part of TTSF:2013. They have a fascinating blend of classical and folk with Alex Carson’s vocals and piano accompanied by cello, violin, guitar, with Lydia’s backing vocals hauntingly floating over the songs. Incredibly beautiful. This was only their third performance and the second time I had seen them (I saw them again the following week at OST in Cinema City bar), they are currently recording their first EP which I cannot wait to buy.
Support included Matt Watson, who I really enjoyed, catchy and clever folk-pop songs, with moments where I was put in mind of the vocal sound of Miles Hunt, from the Wonderstuff. The tracks which really grabbed me the most on first hearing were the very charming “Buttons” and “A New Life”. One to watch, I have bought his just released EP and am really enjoying it.
A few days later it was time to catch The Sargasso Trio for the closing night of TTSF:2013, at the Arts Centre. What a performance this was! A packed crowd really enjoyed themselves, and so too it seemed did the band. I look forward to seeing them again.
Some bitterly cold evenings and treacherous roads and pavements could not put off Songbirds at the Birdcage, nor an appreciative audience … although a couple of acts sadly could not get to Norwich on the night there were able artists able to step in at very short notice. One of those was Joe Quinn, of the Grazing Saints, playing a solo set. This was my first time hearing him and I really liked his voice and songs, one of the highlights of a superb evening. Also on the set were Port Isla, who I have seen many times recently and they seem to just keep getting better. Josh Savage also played a very enjoyable set, and headliners were Heart of a Dog, a band who have become one of my favourites on the Norwich scene, a delicious set warmly received on such a cold night. Also notable for being the last performance for a few weeks whilst the Birdcage undergoes some refurbishment before some promised celebrations in mid-February.
Next up was another great and varied line-up of acts at the Ten Bells. The Thinking Men are very difficult to explain, but highly enjoyable. I felt traces of Tom Waits, The Fall, and Pulp, if you can imagine such a combination!
The evening also provided me with an opportunity to catch the aforementioned Joe Quinn, with his band The Grazing Saints. I was really impressed with them, a set with a range of moods, at times reminding me of Joy Division and once even laid-back Primal Scream, but they are very original, with well constructed songs and clever lyrics. I think these guys could have a good future ahead.
The headliner on the night was my personal favourite solo artist on the local scene, the supremely talented Milly Hirst. I have seen her many times and always look forward to hearing her, she writes like a true artist, painting pictures in my head as I listen to these beautiful songs sung with an amazing voice and suble guitar playing. She is surely destined for success outside of Norwich soon. She has a most beautiful and powerful voice, but uses it with such subtlety and restraint, to very great effect. The songs can appear deceptively simple but they worm their way into your head, heart and soul. I’ve heard them all many times but they never lose their power to move and affect me. A song like ‘Rose’ is seven minutes of some of the most beautiful singing, playing and writing I have heard, I rate it alongside the best any of my favourite artists have recorded. There, I’ve said it, and mean it. An exceptionally talented, true artist who performs and writes from the heart.
The nature of a gig in a pub is that there was some noise filtering through from the adjacent bar but undeterred she just sang louder and everyone in the room was mesmerised.
More of Milly and other January gigs to follow …
words and photos by richard shashamane 2013