Unplugged at the Chapel
There was something of an experiment for Folk on the Water tonight at the lovely Chapel at Newbold venue on 11th November. Instead of them lugging around four grand's worth of sound equipment, we had a totally unplugged concert with three of Big Help Music's young talents.
First on stage was the lovely Bethia Mitchell. Tall, blonde and friendly with it, She has toured the USA twice and it shows in her song writing, her experience in the world is reflected in her lyrics. We didn't see too much of the Country and Western influences which sometimes permeate her performances. Her first song was an original, "Lighthouse Boy" a lively narrative tale, the subject of which is self explanatory. This was followed by a demonstration that unlike some, Bethia proved she is unafraid to put aside her guitar to perform acapella with a version of the well-known gospel song "Amazing Grace". To mark the announcement of the death of Leonard Cohen which was released earlier in the day, she then treated us to an emotional rendition of his biggest song, "Allelujah". This has been covered by thousands of singers of all qualities around the world from the very best to the worst pub vocalist you have ever heard. This version, sung in the candlelit chapel could not have been more evocative, it was a lovely moment to reflect on the loss of one of the world foremost poets and songwriters.
In a complete contrast, Bethia told us about her Grandfather, who lived and loved the simple life. Wearing his coat, and cap, smoking his pipe, he never asked for more and was content in his place. Thus "The Yorkshire Man" came to be written by his loving granddaughter. Her world travels and observations no doubt inspired the following number, "I am not an Ocean" it reflected troubles of a personal nature and how difficult it can be to divorce yourself from those of others. This struggle was reflected in the line "I am a martyr to my own cause, don't make me a martyr to yours."
Another fight song concluded the set. appropriately titled "Fight" it seeks to inspire the listener to take care of their own situation and contains the lyric, "If your darkness is drowning you, you must fight for your life or they will turn off the lights on you" This cannot be the words of a person who has not seen a bit of the world. I really look forward to exploring more of Bethia Mitchell's work in the future. It was a lovely set which gave full vent to her powerful and wide ranging voice.
Ffion Rebecca is a cheeky little imp, lovable and extremely talented. A songwriter in her early teens who pens most of her own gig material. She makes no secret of the fact that she is still learning to play her guitar. (more of this later). "Love away from home", her first song accompanied by Dutch Van Spall on guitar as were several others, opened her set. Her lovely lyrical voice wafted us to the seaside as she sought to assure her love that that she missed him. "Hidden Beauty" her second original song in the set contains romantic notions of lost in the moonlight illusions. The imaginations of young people inspired to come up with lyrics of such maturity astounds one in their eighth decade. I think back to my teenage years and stand in awe at how much more developed they are compared to us at their age.
"California Dreaming" was the only song on Ffion's set which she didn't write herself. This was included simply because she loves singing it. We loved hearing it too. When a performer really enjoys what they do it is conveyed to the audience and this song demonstrated that fact. "Two baby birds" which Dutch rather disparagingly calls "One fat Pigeon" is a sweet little song about two little birds "singing their hearts out every day" to sing their troubles away with the fine ambition to see the world at peace once again. It is perhaps churlish to point out that baby birds don't sing, it is the parents that sing in order to attract a mate, but the concept is attractive anyway.
Adolescent matters arise in "Addictive" which I am guessing is prompted by unrequited love. Lines like "wasting my time, for you're so addictive everyday at school" are aspects of life that I DO recognise from my teenage years. -There was this girl...... Oh well never mind that now-. I was at a festival in Rushden in the summer "RushFest" (Sunday August 6th 2017 is the next one) when Ffion Rebecca surprised her mum with a song dedicated to her mother. In lullaby in form it recalls moments when holding mum's hand is a comforting and consoling act, indeed sometimes a necessity. In front of hundreds of people, Mrs Jones was reduced to tears. I suspect that she has got over the surprise now, but it is a nice gesture to write a song about your mum. Incidentally this song is to be released on a charity single in time for Mother's Day in 2017 and the proceed are to go the Molly Olly's Wishes charity which supports children with life limiting and terminal illnesses.
Another surprise, perhaps even to Ffion herself, was that the night before the concert at Newbold, she was watching preparations for the forthcoming remembrance ceremony and was so affected that she was moved to write a song about the members of the forces and others who did so much for the rest of us in troubled times. Thus "Scarlet Poppy" came to be performed by Ffion less than twenty-four hours after the inspiration first hit her. It is gratifying that one so young has the motivation to recognise the emotional effects of this special weekend. She sang this song accompanying herself on her own nylon strung guitar, which in any other venue would have struggled to make an impression. Such was the impact of the song, the audience at the Chapel, who have always been what Dutch calls "A listening audience", were enthralled. Her guitar itself is worthy of note. She has decorated it herself. I didn't think too much about it, but Ffion was telling my wife about all the symbolism included in the design. I shall have to explore this further. Ffion is hoping to become the "artist in residence" at the forthcoming Folk on the Water Festival in 2017.
Megan Kelsey's household is going through some upheaval at the moment. On top of A level preparation, Grade eight piano examinations, making another video at Strawhouse Studios and moving house, she is still writing songs. Megan's songs are often haunting and melodic, "In my Blood" and "Barely noticed me" are two in point. The latter of which has enjoyed some plays on national radio, this girl is going somewhere, I'm sure. Her set started with "Michicant" A song I do not recall hearing before, in which the singer is searching for her inner self. This was followed by "Magnetised", an animated, lively song once again about the thanklessness of unreturned affection. Lorna Dea, a fellow artist and voice coach at Big Help Music has said how impressed she is with the way that Megan constructs her lyrics and this is certainly true of her writings when you consider "Setting Sun" alongside her other efforts. They are true poetry and I look forward to the day when they are published in lyric form so they can be enjoyed at leisure. That said, a performance by Megan is the most gratifying way to experience them.
Covers do from time to time occur in a Megan Kelsey set, one of the most surprising and yet delightful was "Can't help falling in Love" which first appeared in a 1961 movie starring Elvis Presley. I think even Megan might be surprised to find that the song was based on one written in 1784 by Jean-Paul Egide Martini, so it possibly just a bit older than she thinks. The only other cover I detected in her set was Radiohead's "Karma police". Megan closed her contribution to the concert with her own "Barely noticed me" I suspect that this was the case because she uses different tuning on her guitar, but apart from that it is a tremendous song to finish with. It is always a delight to see Megan Kelsey in concert and if you get the chance to attend an event where she is performing I urge you to take it up. There is an excellent video of this song at this link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUKY48unzXE
take a look and see for yourself.
Well that was the first "unplugged" concert at the Chapel, did it work? Well, I my view, it sort of did. All three girls struggled with the introductions without the aid of a microphone. It was sometimes difficult to determine exactly what was being said, particularly, and this is a bugbear of mine, they tended to rush the titles of the songs they were about to sing. I know that I was not the only one who had to check the with the artists, the names of the songs they sang. This is a bit off-putting and to me the effort of writing and performing anything justifies making sure that you can be heard. Dutch did ask the audience (and indeed the artists) if the non-use of amplification was a success. and he seemed to receive an answer in the affirmative. Whether this was their true feelings or they were just being polite, I cannot say. For me it was an interesting experiment, I do think some amplification is useful in the chapel. The tall ceiling seems to absorbed any reverberation and although intimate and atmospheric, the sound was a bit "dead" in places. Nonetheless, if the choice is between having unplugged sessions and not having them at all, unplugged is fine. I look forward to the next one. There is also the Christmas Concert by the Strawhouse Singers in St Andrews Church Rugby to attend first. Tickets for which are available from https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/bhm