Clemency live at The Muse
Sadly it's been a couple of years since I was last able to post an article on the splendid Clemency (it was their February 2020 gig at Leamington's Town House), so it was great to catch up with them last evening at The Muse (also in Leamington).
It may have been a relatively fallow musical period for Nina & Ben (this was their return to performance) but they have not been idle during that time: the highlight without doubt being the birth of Runa on 17th November 2021 (sadly not quite ready yet to join the family band though I understand she has been working very hard on her vocals). They also have been recording at 14 Records (some of the songs involved appeared in the set) and looking further ahead to the release of the new Ellie Gowers album ‘Dwelling By The Weir' in September, one of Nina's paintings graces the cover.
Sadly The Muse is going into some form of hiatus as a venue (though I understand continuing as a project in other guise) so the event was something of a celebration & farewell for founder Tracie Farren. (Clemency also opened the venue some four years ago).
An intimate performance space (people spilled outside into the warm evening sun in Regent Grove), the sheer & varying numbers in the audience impacted on the sound: set high to have effect when the room was packed, in the moments when the crowd ebbed, the power of Clemency, not necessarily one of the qualities one normally goes for first in describing them, was quite breath taking: Clemency can rock (not for nothing to they do an AC/DC cover).
In fact one of the keys to the appeal of the band is that in addition to the high quality of both voices & instrumental playing (while Ben's guitar work obviously attracts attention, don't underestimate Nina's subtle & often powerful percussion), it's the interplay of the elements which elevate the performances from great to superb. They clearly spend a lot of time working on the details of arrangements & so you get the lot: solo vocals, harmonies, alternating lead vocals, guitar, cajon plus that final and often overlooked element: space, with all or some of the factors dropping in & out. What you don't get is a homogenous mix through the set or even individual songs.
The set itself naturally showcased too their writing: there were the covers from AC/DC, John Martyn & Cameo which Clemency fans will recognise, longer term favourites like "Man At The Station", "Fly" or "Pillar To Post" plus brand new tracks: one, which I believe is called "Key 2 Shape" particularly delighted my ear & is I understand one of those recorded. (Considering recent tragic events at 14 Records, unfortunately any release date is as yet not scheduled).
Given that they have more dates pencilled in for the summer (watch this space, but Songs by The Lake in Culworth on 4th June, Napton Festival on 9th July and Purbeck Valley Folk Festival in Dorset on August 21st are ones for your diaries), Clemency will without doubt be back to what they do so well & did last night: delighting audiences & winning more & more admirers.
Clemency live at the Town House
I expect we all agree that music can actually do things to us & for us: improve our mood & morale, lift our spirits, transform our psyches. When we are talking of musicians of the class of Clemency, whose gig at the Town House in Leamington I attended a few hours ago, the effects are simply enhanced.
Ben & Nina's creation is now into its third year & they have been steadily developing their repertoire, releasing two fantastic singles in "Man At The Station" and "Fly" (both reviewed in "Hot Music Live"), building a substantial fanbase, increasing airplay & playing some exceptional gigs.
They were talking to me about exciting plans for more recording & releases for 2020, yet more live work & it is shaping up to be another great year for them.
One highlight they are already excited about is playing the ‘Folk In A Field' festival at East Walton in Norfolk on July 4th, to be followed by another tour of the Isles of Scilly where they have built up a significant following. There are other gigs in the pipeline which hopefully I can share with you in due course & likewise their new records.
Last night, as I said, their playing wrought its power on me. A comparatively short set, whose elements were all known to me, it went down really well with a full venue. The last two times I'd experienced them live were outside, on the Leamington Bandstand & in the relatively cavernous space of the Band Factory at the Leamington Beer & Music Festival. On both occasions, the space enabled their trademark vocal harmonies to soar & entwine to great effect. However in this much more intimate space, it was something of a different story & I felt that the sound (which was excellent) tended to meld the voices together into a more blended mix, which I felt was an interesting new perspective on what they do so well.
I really look forwards to sharing in all they do in this coming year, and if you haven't heard them live yet, may I recommend that you do? They may well change you as they did me.
"Fly" by Clemency
If several of my more recent reviews have been of songs previously unheard by me & some even caught me by surprise with their release, the new single "Fly" by Clemency (out today) has long been on my radar & I have awaited its release patiently for long months, having delighted in hearing it played live. In fact I remarked on how great I found in back in March in a live review for this magazine: clearly the audience on that occasion agreed with me (and presumably have also been counting the days to the release) as they demanded it being played twice.
And in the song itself, they certainly do fly.... Nina Bailey's voice soars heavenwards as few others can in this lyrically uplifting song, driven on its trajectory by Ben Clempson's sprightly playing. It is dangerous to predict success on a wider scale than people are enjoying at any given time (luck seems to play too big a role), yet all the right ingredients are here: the quality of the composition & performance are flawless, the end product being a song which works on every level to please those from the aficionados to those who simply respond instinctively to a piece which raises the spirit & is so deceptively simple that we can retain the words & tune in our heads to replay when we need inspiration. I certainly do wish them well with the song reaching the widest possible audience.
Nina (vocals & cajon) & Ben (guitar & vocals) only created Clemency in 2017 yet since then have delighted us with their debut single "Man at the Station" (reviewed last August) and kindly allowed us to use "Pillar to Post" on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume One' last year. I can't wait for a full album of their original material given what they have been playing at their always full & mesmerising gigs.
There is a splendid video to accompany "Fly" and like that for its predecessor, is clearly shot with love & high production values & shares too with the earlier one an almost sepia tone, evoking possible a 1930s feel, appropriate I guess for a roots act but also reflecting the timelessness of the song itself. Check it out at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UeNv43GlxFk
Clemency at the Warwick Beer Festival
Richly textured grooves, emotive vocals and powerful original material. Every time I hear this set, it evokes Renbourn, Jansch, McShea and co. but sharpened by a contemporary social and musical perspective.
Clemency at the Magic Lantern
As I was sitting watching Clemency last evening at the Magic Lantern, the thought which went through my head was ‘how lucky I am' to be there in the presence of such wonderfully adept & joyous musicianship. I could hardly be the only one as the venue was packed to capacity. The word about this astoundingly accomplished duo is building rapidly & I can see no obvious limits to where their music might go: I certainly assume that once the festival circuit which puts on acts under various banners such as folk, roots, Americana etc gets them on their radar they'll be in substantial demand.
I reviewed them in the same intimate, full capacity setting as recently as December, so all that I said on that occasion holds good still: if not more so,
So what's new in the world of Clemency (who are of course Nina Bailey on vocals & cajon & Ben Clempson on guitar and vocals)? Well a great new song "Fly" has joined their set (they played it twice to the audience's delight: it is going to be their next single too). Some songs (and they have many: they played two sets and needed no support act) seem to have developed in their arrangements. The song I really liked in December about a man with "all the whisky" and many other things too, seemed to me to have gained a definite air of menace since last I heard it. Other songs ("Walk the Land" being one of my big favourites) just get better and better: the understanding between the two musicians is so strong (no doubt they rehearse hard too) that the songs have an innate power and beauty despite the paucity of instruments. Indeed they really rock what might be described as folk songs & folk songs with a great deal of internal musical structure & sophistication. I was sat in front of Ben & simply could not keep up with his playing: like many great performers, they make things sound wonderfully simple and affective while in fact there is great musical complexity in there. The same might be said for their vocals: again only two voices but both the harmonies in terms of lead/backing but also many genuine two part leads are breathtaking & at times I could hear three of them: the two constituent parts plus the combination.
From time to time they sing solo too which just goes to showcase their talents in that department: Nina has one of those great classic folk singing styles which adds great character and meaning to the words.
As previously noted, although I used certain generic labels earlier (can't say I much like that but it does help sometimes to get a picture of an act across to those unfamiliar with them), their approach, especially with their covers is extremely eclectic: funk, rock, r&b and soul all put in an appearance & receive the distinctive Clemency makeover.
So I'll sign off where I began & suggest that you don't just take my word for it: see and hear for yourselves.
Debut single by Clemency
The APE Promotions nights organised by Johnny Satsangi can be very loud, powerful & even raucous affairs.