"Hush! A Yule Celebration" at Earlsdon Carnegie Community LibraryReview
Some (many I hope) of you may follow Horace Panter's in depth & highly entertaining diaries of life on the road with The Specials and the Dirt Road Band. They often focus on the tribulations of trying to run a venue under current circumstances as well as on being a working musician. His most recent one certainly does shed fascinating light on the pressures they are under. I too, as I've regularly written in this magazine, have worried about whether there would be places enough in which to play when musicians came out of lockdown.
I'm starting with these thoughts because on Wednesday & Thursday just past, were I a betting person, I'd not have put much money on my sitting here this morning writing a review of "Hush! A Yule Celebration" which "Hot Music Live Presents" organised with and at Earlsdon Carnegie Community Library.
Ironically, the event was in many ways a rescheduling of an event planned for December 2021, hit by headliner Ellie Gowers falling ill on the morning of the gig. This year, with all tickets sold, we made it to four days out before (a) the Library boiler gave out (b) there was a coincidental gas leak outside which prevented access to the building to fix the boiler (c) Ellie & both Nina & Ben of support act Clemency were too ill to perform.
The fact that I'm writing this tells you that all these challenges were overcome, but the ingenuity, perseverance, hard work & dedication of so many people to turn things round in such a way that it was the artistic & emotional triumph which had been anticipated, is where I'd like to start on this occasion and while credit needs to go to specific people here & now, it's worth thinking more broadly too of all the similar efforts which go into making live music happen everywhere else: input seldom spotted let alone celebrated by the average audience member.
In the end, to cut the logistics story short, after two nail biting days the gas main was sealed, facilitating access to what could have been used as a frozen food storage facility by that time. A boiler replacement in the hours left was never very feasible, so much credit both to the indefatigable team of volunteers at the Library (led by Chair of Trustees Julie Rubidge), who after all had saved it from closure in the first place, & especially Jewson's who found & lent them a spare portable heater of such ferocity that it certainly transformed the environment very quickly.
All the musicians battled their own health & made it: though even at the start of the evening Ben was pessimistic about being able to sing.
Clemency opened proceedings & to his & everyone else's delight, Ben's voice made its usual fine contribution to the complex intertwining vocal parts of their repertoire: in addition to his virtuoso guitar playing & Nina's subtle cajon work. Sticking almost exclusively to their own original material (with a detour into their regular cover of Cameo's "Word Up"), they demonstrated to an appreciative audience, many of whom were new to Clemency's talents, the scope of what they create & perform so delightfully. It's a shame that through a combination of circumstances (some not good, others very much good), they haven't played live much in recent years (I was lucky enough to review them back in the summer) nor have the fruits of some as yet non completed recording sessions yet resulted in either the EP or album they had in mind: they have so many great new songs in addition to the previously released singles. At any rate the audience last night were fortunate to hear them, especially given how close we'd come to that not being the case.
In a coincidence, in her role as a visual artist, Nina had also created the cover art for Ellie's album ‘Dwelling By The Weir', so it was wonderful to have her talk a little about how it was conceived & created in the presence of the latter. Nina will be returning at our next "Hush!" event on 25th February to expand upon her work in this area.
As the idea of the "Hush!" events is to offer people exposure to a range of art forms, including those they might not necessarily experience much, the second item on the bill was Ian Todd: not in his familiar role (in these pages at least) as a musician, but demonstrating live in the Library, how he creates the abstract artworks you'll have seen on display & sale at his gigs. Credit to at this point to members of the Library team & to Johnny Holden for rigging up an ingenious camera system so that the nuances of what Ian was doing could be projected onto the big screen. I think everyone had their eyes opened to just how unusual his approach was: in terms of minutes taken to actually "create" pieces (and he did two in a very short space of time), it looked easy. The tricks were all in subtle aspects of preparation: little things which would definitely have been missed without the commentary & the camera. I think the big revelation was in the final part of the process: despite the obvious clarity of the media deposited in the canvasses, in the initial moments of their arriving there, the effect was muddy & unremarkable. Yet with the drying process (hastened by both the Jewson jet and Ian's hand held heater) the delicacy of effects slowly emerged before our eyes as the results of the preparation stages paid off. I understand that it will take another couple of days yet for each work to fully mature, but now those who were present will, when they see Ian's finished pieces, have greater insight into how they were crafted.
The Jewson jet certainly enabled the event to go ahead, but its ferocity previously mentioned was not a quiet one. It was quite impossible to have it on during the musical sets & the experiment of seeing if it would muffle Ian's talk proved that it did (that was purely my responsibility and though failed, was probably worth the attempt). Consequently, temperatures fell rapidly & markedly during all items: the audience deserve credit for their hardiness at these points & the artists even more so: especially as all were so recently risen from their sick beds.
With regular breaks to warm her fingers, Ellie delivered the magical set we'd waited twelve months to hear: exquisite music for the festive season. Having recently completed a most successful nationwide tour to share the equally acclaimed ‘Dwelling By The Weir', her star is very much in the ascendant currently: indeed we probably heard songs last night we'd not necessarily have been treated to had the original gig gone ahead as planned. Nevertheless, it was not simply a continuation of the tour as unique circumstances shaped "Hush!". Firstly, as she pointed out, the album, so close to her heart, is very rooted in Coventry & Warwickshire: the songs about Coventry ribbon weavers, the local blitz and the joys of the River Avon at Guys Cliffe just mean more to audiences such as last night's than for those in other parts of the country.
In addition, the season gave Ellie full scope for her interpretations of classic winter songs such as "In The Bleak Midwinter" (how apt) or "The Holly & The Ivy" and it was appropriate to play her own "Parting Breath" (from her EP of that name) in this context.
This is where we need to acknowledge too the sound engineering skills of Wes Finch (whose idea by the way the live feed of Ian's painting was): Ellie's singing & guitar playing can frequently be exquisite (though she has a great penchant for the robust & exuberant too at times) and fragile in quality: last night was definitely the occasion for favouring that end of the spectrum, but it needed someone with the finest of touches to bring its qualities fully to the audience.
So there you have it: one of the finest & richest of artistic experiences, yet one of the most difficult to bring to fruition that I've ever had the privilege to be involved with: I'll finish by repeating what I started with: it would not have been possible without the "above & beyond" efforts of so many people (and thanks too to Brian Fawcus of the library volunteers who kindly allowed the use of some of his photos for this review).
Our next "Hush!" event is on Saturday, February 25th at 1700 at Earlsdon Carnegie Community Library. Artists appearing will be Nina talking about her art plus music from "Hot Music Live Presents" featured performers & writers annA rydeR and Katherine Abbott.