Street Arts Project album launchReview
As noted in my review of ‘Recovery', the new Streets Arts Project album, the launch event was held at Stratford Playhouse last evening & it was my privilege to be there to support it & to review it for you.
The very well attended evening began with appetisers from two local musicians playing short solo sets: Karl Wheeler & Jen Waghorn. The former ("Stratford's Billy Bragg") went down particularly well: Karl has experienced & is currently experiencing some of the issues that challenge group members and so his set had particular resonance & sense of authenticity: he chose his songs (both covers & his own) very well to address the themes of the project. I found his reworked version of Woody Guthrie's "I Ain't Got No Home In This World Anymore" especially moving, delivered in a raw & passionate performance.
After a brief break, the group came out to perform the bulk of ‘Recovery'. Aided but not overshadowed by the talented group of professional musical collaborators & enablers, the musicians were clearly delighted to share their compositions. Of course issues such as nerves played a part but it was really noticeable how the group supported each other through such moments, as did the encouragement of the audience.
Confidence defined all the songs: some performers clearly very much benefited from the collective experience, not having to sing too many words each & with their friends all round them. Other more confident members offered transcendental moments of more solo testifying: for example I think no-one was unmoved by Saeedeh's stark, soulful song in her native Farsi & Janey overcame the breaking of her own guitar just before performing her "Land of the Unknown" to produce a strong and again passionate emotional effect.
What also impressed me was a sense of flexibility on show: they opened with a group performance of the title track/lead single which was clearly a little muted by nerves, so at the end of the evening, fortified by the success in between, they did it again with much more power.
We had also audience participation in Phil's "Normal Song" which asked pertinent questions of us all & I think reinforced the message of community: the group members may well have become to some extent socially isolated via their circumstances, but now it was demonstrated that they are part of a collaborative society: with each other, the professional musicians, project organisers Doug Armstrong and Jackie Lines and a wider group as exemplified by the audience.
After hearing the album set, the Street Arts Band (Wes Finch on bass, Jono Wright & Jack Blackman on electric guitars, Katherine Abbott on acoustic guitar & Ben Haines on drums) who had provided structure, accompaniment and the necessary timing (along with group member Richard on excellent keyboards) for the group, were joined by Jen on fiddle for a short set of appropriate covers including "The Weight" and a searing version of "Gimme Shelter" with Jono & Jack playing off each other to great effect. This served to add an emotional punctuation to the previous songs.
What is impossible to fully grasp by just listening to the album was this sense. I could not get over the love & support the group members gave each other throughout nor the encouragement from those attending: sitting in the audience, there was so much chatter & delight over the successes we were witnessing & a sense of shared joy.
We had songs of challenges past, present & future. We had songs of small delights, of losses and of hopes. We heard of dreams & friendships, of Katie's favourite horse Gilly & of Dave's daughter Lilymae. Above all we heard of hope renewed.