The latest BFR (Bare Feet Records) presentation at the Birdcage featured one of my local favourites, Milly Hirst, fellow local artist Andrew Taylor, and Cardiff-based six piece Winter Villains.
A comfortable sized audience was present on an incredibly busy night of music once again in Norwich, and they listened very respectfully to all the acts, the first of which was Andrew Taylor, someone also busy at Jurnet’s. Perched on a chair with an acoustic guitar, songbook and glass of water he enchanted the whole audience with his gentle but haunting songs with equally gentle voice. The songs are mesmeric and intelligent, drawing in the listener. Some of the lyrics are so evocative, one that particularly grabbed me was the repeated line of “Nobody waves at trains anymore” gently sad but true and with an innocence that somehow had me thinking of childhood. It was the first time I’d heard Andrew perform, there’s certainly a bit of a Mike Oldfield influence in some of his recorded works that I have heard and I thought he was most impressive. I had a brief chat with him afterwards and he is also a lovely and interesting chap.
The next performance was to come from Milly Hirst, not as advertised with a new band but performing solo and acoustically. She was in very fine form and voice tonight and included many of my favourites, including You Are Lovely, Kampala Roads, Book or a Film, Rose, and a few of the new ones, Illustrated Man, Cherry Tree and the song dedicated to her sister who is about six and a half months pregnant (“Apple Tree”?). I’ve heard these two newest ones performed live about three times now and they have worked their way into my head already and become more refined and hypnotic each time I hear them, I can see these songs becoming real set favourites, being subtle, powerful and beautiful, which is trademark Milly.
I’m always pleased when she performs You Are Lovely, which is … lovely. Introduced as her “country song”, although I don’t fully understand why as it doesn’t really sound country to me, it has some gorgeous lyrics which are often going around my head (“Please don’t move your head, the light is perfect … on both sides”, “But you are lovely, and you’re kind, and I’m so immersed in my mind, and please don’t waste your time on me … on me”), over a very sweet repetition on guitar like a caressing lullaby. Once again the set seemed to be over all too soon but it was a lovely performance beautifully delivered. Milly has a quiet, understated and very likable stage presence between songs but wow, when she is singing she is utterly captivating. What a voice she has! I love the way she uses it, a beautiful voice of immense power but she appreciates how to use it with restraint and subtlety which only increases its power, and when she does really let rip one can only sit in silence, rapt attention and awe.
A busy and exciting time for Milly, with another new EP in the pipeline (I think Cherry Tree with Jess Wilson) and a new role performing with Wooden Arms (who released their debut single last week), she remains my favourite solo artist in Norwich.
Knowing next to nothing about the final act of the night, Winter Villains other than that they are based in Wales, I was slightly surprised when I saw that the chap in the audience with the retro Norwich City football shirt was taking to the stage with the band. It seems he has Norwich roots and the shirt was from his year of birth (it was the classic ‘Fosters’ shirt).
Featuring violin, keyboards, drum, bass and guitar, the melodies are delicate and delightful, but the most impressive aspect is the vocal harmonies. Absolutely gorgeous and impressive, and also sounding quite Welsh, not totally surprisingly, but also with church choral elements.
At the end of the set I bought their new CD, a beautifully packaged, individually numbered art piece in its own right, with a cover of atmospheric trees in a Klimt style on recycled card. The album itself is every bit as impressive as their performance was and is a record I am proud to have in my collection. I hope they return to Norwich again before too long.
Thanks to all the acts on the night, the lovely company, and also to (summer haircutted) Alex Carson for laying on another superb BFR night.
a sample of Andrew Taylor’s recent album on Bandcamp.
Words and photos (c) richard shashamane 2013