When I first saw the poster for this event I could hardly believe my eyes it was such a dream line-up for me. Just about perfect if Phoebe had been playing too but that would be asking too much what with her organising this most welcome and magical return of live music in the Bicycle Shop’s Handlebar, one of my favourite spaces in the city. This April edition was another successful following last month’s launch.
Hot Raisin are really special to me, I call them my natural anti-depressants as they always lift my mood in a lovely way. They just make me happy! Playing first on the bill in this packed out Handlebar they were a three-piece of Tory, Mary, and Luke (with bassist Tom also in the audience) and in that strange way of things sometimes, the house PA was playing Miss Ohio by Gillian Welch which of course is something the Raisins sometimes play, though not today but they did play most tracks from their two recent EPs. In the ambient, candlelit lighting Tory pointed out that the sides of the stage area were quite dark so you could only really see Mary and Luke’s guitars, though sometimes their faces were visible it was in very much the style of the With the Beatles album cover! There might have been a little bit of an issue with the lead mic but Tory’s voice is always beautiful and the guitars all sounded absolutely sublime. It felt like a while since I’d last seen them so they once again put a big smile on my face. My favourite on the night was Take Me Over. Actually the last time I did see them was at the Stanford in Lowestoft, and on that occasion when I got back to Norwich I was just in time to catch an evening set at Frank’s Bar by none other than Of the Clay, who of course were also on this bill.
Milly has been quite quiet on the gigging front for a while so it’s most pleasing to see (and hear) her playing again. She actually made a low-key return the previous week at The Birdcage supporting Chad Mason and Steve Dulieu in a lovely and intimate gig. It felt like it had been a while since I saw Chad too and it’s always a pleasure to be at one of his gigs. Steve Dulieu was something of a new name on me but he had a fine voice and played an enjoyable, impressive set, as well as handling sound for Milly and Chad. Here in the Handlebar Milly played a beautiful mix of new and older songs. Opening with Kampala she just eased into her set without a word and did that thing she has the power to do. Totally silenced the hubbub of chatter in an absolutely packed bar. It’s good to have you back Milly, and an especial treat to see you in this setting. Four years ago she played Mary for the first time at the Birdcage and then again a few days later here in this same venue. We had the same sequence this time, four years on, and fittingly it was the song Mary, one of her very best, that ended her set tonight.
Of the Clay first came to my attention at one of Shane O’Linski’s OosWolf nights at Cactus at the beginning of last year. It turns out that was one of their very first gigs and it had an eventful start with someone from a boxing event next door rather gatecrashing the gig in drunkenly boisterous style. I had huge admiration for Of the Clay for the unfazed way in which they handled that and just continued playing and singing. That made a big impression on me but so too did their music. A mix of folk with some covers tinged with Irish, English and Appalachian influences. So when the power failed during one of their songs this made little difference to them and they just carried on regardless. It’s possibly the most comfortable and at ease I’ve seen them, joking and smiling and chatting between songs and mesmerising during them.
Of the Clay also performed recently as part of the Sian Croose and Brendan Taaffe directed Dawn Chorus which was generously crowdfunded. One of just three performances the Norwich one was sandwiched between those at Halesworth and Cambridge and held in the beautiful setting of the Octagon Chapel. It featured original and traditional acappella from the UK and USA and also included Iain Lowery, Kimberley Moore, Alfie Carpenter and a whole host of others in the ensemble. Of the Clay performed a stunning rendition of th Bert Jansch arrangement of Nottamun Town.
Another quite wonderful night in the Handlbar for the April session of these events, big thanks to Phoebe and The Bicycle Shop for putting them on, and Milly Hirst, Of the Clay, and Hot Raisin for playing it. It was whilst introducing the song Geordie that Niamh from Of the Clay mentioned that one of the things she loved about the characters in the old traditional folk songs were the strong women. There were certainly some of those involved in the magical nature of this beautiful evening too which I noted were all linked by each act referencing sea air, the coast, and ships.
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