The Vagaband live at The Forum, Milly Hirst and Jessica Alice, live at The Plastereres, Norwich, 19 September 2013, review.
The summer is clearly drawing to a close. Last week I watched the mighty Vagaband at Bestival (full review and pics to come) in the late summer heat, in shorts and t-shirt. Back in Norwich in mid-September on a drizzly day, the City Council’s excellent summer programme of Thursday evening street entertainment had to be moved at short notice from Timber Hill to the Forum. The architectural acoustics of this venue, not to mention the cover from the elements made this a wise choice. Fresh from their headline sets at the Great Yarmouth ‘Out There’ Festival, this evening they played three sets over three and a half hours, and for us long-time fans under the cover of the Marzano parasols, it was a treat to hear a good mix of set favourites, and some superb-sounding new songs being ‘bedded’ into the set. Also lovely to see some good friends here too. These new tracks are sounding excellent and full of promise. Clearly Jose has hit a rich vein of songwriting output, which can only be good news for all of us who love to hear this special band. I was only able to catch the final couple of numbers of the first set, plus the whole of the second and third sets, which featured a delicious blend of favourites, covers, jigs and reels, and some new songs I cannot wait to become more acquainted with!
As the clock approached 8pm the set was drawing to a close, with a spectacular Harvest Moon, rising over St Peter Mancroft. It also signalled a temporary parting of the ways, with The Vagaband heading towards The Rose Tavern, my friends Dickie and Jenny towards the Rumsey Wells for another gig, and Jo and Pete for yet another gig at the Walnut Tree Shades. Myself, I was moving towards the Plasterers for Thursday “Girls With Guitars” night featuring Milly Hirst and Jessica Alice.
I suppose it’s inevitable we all have our favourites, and it was lovely to see some of them all on the same night. I unashamedly make no bones or dispute about this, and certainly no apologies for having favourites. They are so because of what they do, how their songs touch me, and how they conduct themselves as people. I have nothing but respect and admiration for them as artists and, dare I say it, friends, as I have seen them so often as to feel a degree of closeness, but this attendance of their gigs is borne of a feverish and genuine passion for their music.
The Plasterers is a superb little pub, a local on the edge of the city centre, just off Magdalen Street, beyond the also wonderful Blueberry. During the infamous early 80s Norwich music scene the Plasterers was something of a creative musical hub, a gathering point for the likes of The Higsons, Screen 3, and Serious Drinking. These days it is less studenty but with a very friendly and welcoming ‘local’ feel, and with a fine selection of real ales with some great prices. Increasingly it is hosting musical nights, with Thursdays becoming a regular music night for ‘girls with guitars’.
Jessica Alice was first to perform tonight. Having heard a sneak preview of some of her new recordings with Iain Lowery, I am really excited to hear more. He is a name producer in Norwich, and not without reason. He clearly ‘gets’ Jess’ voice and when these recording are finally released I have no doubt they will be extremely well-received. There is a huskiness, a soulful expressiveness about her voice which is highly compelling.
This evening she delivered a typically lovely and charming set. Her stage presence is nothing short of delightful, a very charming and likable girl, but that is not meant in a patronising manner. Her songs stand on their own, with some absolute gems in her set. I was particularly taken tonight with the renditions of ‘Red’, the song about her empathetic dog (“which some ex-boyfriends think is about them”), and final number, which is as yet untitled but has a working title of “Jess 1”, which I think I singled out for particular praise in another previous review.
And so to headliner for tonight, Milly Hirst. Proving that her exquisite vocal performance at Jurnets last week was no one-off, she again delivered another sublime vocal performance. We all know the heights to which her vocals can soar but lately the softer side of her vocal expression has become even more gentle, assured, delicate and powerful in a deliciously understated way. In my opinion she is on a beautiful creative plateau of musical interpretation. There is not much more to add to the words I have stated countless times from my many reviews of this special talent. Get out and see her while you can in such wonderful venues, everyone I have taken or encouraged to see her has thanked me for doing so.
Almost the entire bar seemed transfixed by her performance, the only exception being one loud person at the bar who I feel sure must have been some sensitivity-immune sales rep. On behalf of myself and countless others, I can only applaud the brave chap who very diplomatically – and with more restraint than I could have trusted myself with – told him to keep his voice down. Needless to say there was not another peep and he soon left. I almost applauded!
Despite this, it was another truly marvellous night of music in a most wonderful pub. One day we might be talking of the night we heard such talents in these surroundings. We should treasure the moments and the special talents we have on our doorstep. Even on a Thursday night there were at least four high-profile pub gigs taking place – all of them featuring artists worthy of wider acclaim. Who says nothing ever happens in Norwich?
For the final number, Milly was once again joined for a gorgeous joint rendition of an interpretation of a song inspired by a Ted Hughes poem: “Heptonstall Old Church”. Two sublime voices in gorgeous harmony.
words and photos by richard shashamane, all rights reserved, 2013