Grapevine at Bedfords, Norwich, with The John Ward Band, plus “Round Session” with Natalie Lake, José McGill, Steve Pulford, Matt Watson, 30 April 2014
There is a long line of brilliant Grapevines and each month I seem to say that this is the best one yet, and this time is no exception.
Faced with the unfortunate cancellation of the headliner for the month, the wonderful Cara Winter, due to a problem with a tendon in her hand (Get well soon, Cara!) and the switching of dates with Natalie Lake stepping in for Grant Ley, Steve really pulled a rabbit out of the hat with this line up and the Round Session which formed two thirds of the evening. Sitting in a line of chairs, Steve Pulford, José McGill, Natalie Lake, and Matt Watson took turns singing and playing, with some rich banter and jamming going on too.
Starting the night’s music was Steve (of The Arlenes, and The Shooting Stars) he introduced his songs beautifully with stories in his easy and relaxed manner before playing and singing in his wonderful voice. I was delighted to finally get my hands on some ‘hard copy’ CDs of his works with the Arlenes afterwards too, next will be a fantastic vinyl copy of his other band’s release The Shooting Stars in a gorgeous hand made cover which is even hand stitched. Great lyrics and delivery, (“Double Dip, Triple Dip Recession, When Will We Start Calling it Depression?”) and a great finale to the session with She Proved Me Wrong (video at the end of the post, below).
Opening his selection tonight, José chose one of my favourites of his new compositions, a wisftul ode to his hometown of Great Yarmouth, Town With No Name, which I heard for the first time at the recent Shash Bash. He also played The Whistling Song, Itchy Fingers, and Roll the Thunder, and in their pared down versions like this one really listens to the lyrics and notice a recurring theme of mortality and all things finite. José is a superb musician but along with bandmate Greg – who also deserves much credit – is an absolutely tremendously gifted songwriter too with some exceptional lyrics which nails the mood of the songs perfectly (“These streets are dyin’, this party’s over. The waves upon the water couldn’t wash away the stains”). Observational, thoughtful and respectful, I simply cannot wait for the forthcoming Vagaband album which I suspect will be something of a masterpiece, I long to have recordings of these newer songs, as well as some which have been floating around the band’s live set for a couple of years, like Black Sheep.
What can I say about the lovely Natalie Lake? It’s only been a year or so since I first saw her perform and her development and growth as an artist has been breathtaking, especially in recent months. The blossoming of her confidence is also a delight with her personality and wit coming through more and more between songs, she comes across as extremely likable and modest. She simply does not need to apologise for sad or melancholy songs, as was mentioned during the evening by others “Hey! We love sad songs, we do melancholy here!” Absolutely! That said, when she announced during her first song of the second session that she was feeling “Slightly less nervous than during the first” she got a storming and rousing round of applause 🙂 It’s interesting how the theme of the songs by all four artists did seem to be linked by a reflective wistfulness and some melancholy, thoughtful lyrics, which was all in stark contrast to the happy, fun and relaxed mood between songs, and no small amount of laughter too. At one point during one of Steve’s songs José somehow managed to break a nail. Hearing this a girl at the side of the stage offered up her nail file which she gave to Steve to pass to José. A moment of shock before Steve realised what it was “I thought for a moment that was a spliff, and was gonna say, ‘Hey, I don’t do that sh– no more!'” Brilliant!
Natalie played Failure (her Laura Marling cover), Without Him, and despite her nerves had the immense courage to play for the first time a song she penned only two days earlier, entitled Fear. This made such an impression on someone in the audience close to me that they were moved enough to tell me how much she loved “That young lady’s beautiful voice and the words of this song which made a huge impression on me, please tell her this”, so there you go, Natalie 🙂
I’ve been encouraging Matt for a while now to retain one of my favourites in his repertoire, Buttons, and to “scorn not its simplicity” and I especially love the way it has evolved. With its slightly slower pace and the hummed parts it has taken on a more sombre mood and is almost Johnny Cash-esque. I think on the night it was Matt’s set which possibly changed the most, with no covers and with only A Brighter Day being close to the pace of his more recent live shows it was fascinating to listen to the slower, more subtle numbers. He too is a very articulate songwriter and has a good, strong, clear voice and in my opinion this slower, more subtle way of playing suited him very much. Of course there is a time and place for the louder, faster, more rousing songs but tonight he judged the organic and evolving mood of the way the evening was developing and chose his songs and how to play them accordingly. I think this could well be one of his best sets yet.
I think this session will also prove to be a huge benefit to young Natalie Lake, playing to an audience who fully respect and listen to the artists, and amongst such great and supportive company too. José was totally attentive and itching to join in on guitar and in beautiful moments there was some lovely jamming going on. I’ve never been to one of these Round Sessions before and I suspect the artists hadn’t played in one before either, so there was a bit of adrenaline around at the prospect of the unknown, set lists were changed or abandoned, and I think it’s fair to say that each artist was raising the game of the others in a really positive way as a result of the formula, and not least the excellent songs they all played.
Not easy to follow two sets of high class Round Sessions like that but kudos to The John Ward Band from Lowestoft for stepping up to the plate and playing a lovely and varied set, again with some excellent dialogue between songs (and splendid percussion!) to send us all home smiling and buzzing from the tremendous music once again at Bedfords. Lovely to see the place full and so appreciative for a special night. Many thanks as always to Steve and Jan, Stuart on sound, Bedfords Bar, and all the wonderful musicians.
words and photos (c) richard shashamane 2014