Bare Feet Records Summer Showcase at Norwich Arts Centre, 1 June 2013, review
I bought my ticket for this event months ago, such was my enthusiastic anticipation at this event showcasing some of the best and most promising acts on Alex Carson’s BFR label.
The city was in a pleasantly chilled but lethargic and tired post-festival, sunny weekend mood but a very respectable sized crowd had turned up for this one and were treated to a real gem of an evening.
I don’t know if the running order was drawn by straws or what, as any one of these bands could have justifiably headlined it, but it was Milly who opened the proceedings with a beautiful set, this venue doing her exquisite voice justice. She was freshly arrived back in Norwich, having performed in Cambridge at the Strawberry Fair earlier in the day and by her own admission was feeling “tired and full of cider” 🙂 Neither showed in her performance, however, which sounded just beautiful, her voice and guitar playing were both at their absolute best, and I literally had goose-bumps during her rendition of Rose at the end of the set. Earlier on I was again delighted to hear You Are Lovely, which seems to have been reinstated to the set, alongside Kampala Road, Book or a Film, Cherry Tree and more. Now if only Birds can be added back to the set I will be very happy indeed!
She was also joined for one song by Will of Port Isla and Jon from Heart of a Dog for another ‘PortMillyDog’ session.
Following Milly was Alex’s own band Wooden Arms, who I have seen many times in their short career. Always evolving, developing and improving, they even added a brand new song to the set, which reaches their high standards. The playing and the instruments are very much suited to this venue, and I believe their set was being video-recorded, which is perhaps why Alex (who Milly described as “label Daddy”) was speaking between songs a little less than usual! I’ve seen the band in many formations this year, but this was the first time I had heard them play with Milly, who joined them onstage at the end for Separate the Verb. Unfortunately Lydia had to leave the band due to other commitments, and I had been missing her ethereal, beautifully haunting, floating backing vocals when they played as a four piece, though still enjoying the sets immensely, and I think one of the very few people who could have taken over this role was Milly. She has a different presence of her own, but her voice is the perfect replacement for Lydia’s. Sadly I was unable to attend the single launch at the Birdcage which was Milly’s first gig in this role, and I think perhaps she was too tired to accompany them for the full set tonight but I would like to hear it. I do not know if she is a permanent addition to the band but if not then I hope the female vocals of the songs will be kept as I think that’s one of the things about the band that sets them apart and gives the songs an immediacy. I like what they are doing very much, clever lyrics, haunting and unconventional songs mixing folk, classical and baroque, and with a very warm overall sound. The audience was highly attentive and most were sat on the floor listening keenly.
Tonight’s third act was Heart of a Dog. I think they played perhaps the best gig I have heard from them. Tonight joined by Will and Henry from Port Isla, the sound was terrific and full, the playing excellent and the songs, new and old superb. Catchy, clever, at times moving, and introduced with an easy warmth from singer Sam, and lovely, charming jokes between himself and excellent drummer Jon with steady and accomplished bass playing from Ian. It feels like the band are stepping up to the next level and it is fascinating and pleasing to watch them develop and grow, long may it continue. I’ve seen them play in front of about a dozen people, and also in front of a few hundred, and they perform with the same love of the songs, and the act of performing whatever the audience. A band in it for the right reasons. They too were joined onstage for a lovely version of Berlin, by Milly Hirst.
It fell to Port Isla to round off the evening, with a storming and rousing set, which had the venue dancing. Quite rocky at times, and very well delivered, this feels like a band on the verge of bigger things, but so lovely to see them perform in a venue like this, obviously enjoying playing with friends and label-mates, they have created a wonderful bond with the other acts and also the local audience. A professional act in all areas, I think they are going places, and it is well-deserved. Talented artists and lovely people.
For the finale, all acts were together on the stage, having a whale of a time, and Alex was even pushed into making a speech by Will and the audience, which he did! The next showcase promises to be a winter highlight. Bare Feet Records seems such a lovely label which projects the feel of a label family as Milly suggested, and I salute all the support it gives to local talent.
words and photos by richard shashamane 2013