A Celebratory Cruise on a Tiny Boat with Lauren South & friends

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A Celebratory Cruise on a Tiny Boat with Lauren South & friends

Review

Ironically, the tremendous personal enjoyment I got out of attending "A Celebratory Cruise on a Tiny Boat with Lauren South & friends" at the Albany Theatre in Coventry yesterday evening contributes to how hard it is to reflect what I experienced in adequate words.

I've long sang the praises of Lauren & her music and reviewed her debut solo album ‘Tiny Boat' (whose title track is also featured on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume Eleven') in the magazine, again attempting to express my response as best I could. In the event of course it has received a great many equally glowing reviews since: she is definitely regarded as a rising star of the British folk scene.

That the musicians who contributed to the album included such eminent names as Ellie Gowers, John Parker & Ben Haines in addition to her regular duo partner Keith Donnelly is an accurate reflection of the esteem in which she was held even before she'd recorded anything.

The problem of course with working with such stellar names is that recreating the album live was always going to be tricky given the level of competing demands they are under: therefore it was wonderful how they were able to find this mutually convenient date (and they so enjoyed playing together that they are seeking to identify future possibilities which I urge you to try to witness).

The context must not be taken lightly either as it was in fact the monthly CVFolk event (the second Sunday) at the Albany Theatre, put together by Pete Willow: this is one of those vital events which offers performance opportunities for creators of original material who really deserve audiences who pay rapt attention: lord knows there are far too few of these and all those I tend to write about & feature on "Hot Music Live Presents" compilations could do with as many as possible: this will only sustain with your support. As it happens, the next event in this series (on May 12th) showcases Liam Vincent & the Odd Foxes whose track "Rise Up" appears on "HMLP12" (and Rebecca Mileham from that band was also in the audience yesterday).

Thus, the above mentioned luminaries were not the only ones on the bill: honourable mention must also go to Maria Barham & Becky Syson who played short, contrasting & well received support sets both as appetisers for the main act and as important contributions to the CVFolk night in their own right. Both came back on stage to contribute to the encore "Shine Away", helping to supply the harmonies which Lauren's young daughters had provided on record.

Which brings me at last to the point at which I came in.. these are superb songs as so many people have attested over the last few months. The calibre of these musicians is beyond both doubt & my levels of impertinence in even commenting on.

As I say, the songs have generally been performed by Lauren solo or with Keith's help, so are those sort of pieces so well constructed that they work in various arrangements. So what do these virtuosi bring to them?

Well of course fuller forms is the first answer: each came enhanced with additional nuances of sound which took the meanings into slightly different territories without loss of intent or emotional clout. This was ‘Tiny Boat Plus' and if you hear it next with just Lauren & Keith, you are in for a treat: it's just that on this occasion we got it with many cherries & other delights added.

Knowing the songs so well & the musicianship of each, I hope you'll excuse my getting out of the bind of trying to review the perfect & sublime by sharing moments of detailed joy.

As ever, Lauren switched between tenor guitar, violin and shruti box and Keith between six and twelve string guitars, but as Pete quipped, they could have had a competition to guess the numbers of strings needing tuning (apparently they got there very early to do this) across the band. And that was only stringed instruments.

In fact they switched continuously in an orgy of perfectionism to do each song justice.

Ellie, apart from performing backing vocals (and it says a lot that someone of her stature offered herself to Lauren in this role), made her stage debut on shruti box while Lauren switched to violin for "Hope/Boo to the Goose". She then debuted her thunder tube skills on "Weather the Storm" while Keith played a rain stick.

Ben, while remaining behind his kit was constantly on the move, switching sticks/beaters/brushes, retuning his snare mid set, changing cymbal type, deploying a vast array of percussion instruments & ultimately playing through bits of cardboard box for the right effect.

John too alternated between bowing & using his fingers so his ringing the technical changes were modest by the standards of the others, but one innovation I'd never before seen live which I enjoyed was how he & Keith quietly played on under Lauren's expositions: apparently conceived as "faffing about" to cover her own guitar retunings, nevertheless it provided a groovy accompaniment to her spoken word and elevated matters still further. More people should try this as it's really classy.

Ironically, they ran out of time: I'd loved to have heard "Judith's Song" as it's a favourite & no doubt they planned to play it.

It's possible to make something of a general statement and suggest that John's contributions in particular moved the songs from what might reasonably be described as in folk idioms to somewhere much more jazzy. This (partial) metamorphosis was not just one of the highlights of hearing the songs in these arrangements but helps Lauren's music move into a less rigidly defined genre definition. Ellie has gone this way before her of course: my recent review of her current work in progress as well as many recent releases shows that she may have started as a "folk artist" but there are many forms she excels in. Both Ben & John regularly play in a range of musical styles too. It's a grand thing to be solidly rooted in an authentic tradition, but that does not preclude growing branches in many directions too.

Lauren is a writer of great depth, perception & emotional integrity. She Is blessed in having the performance skills to interpret her own songs and those of others in exquisite ways and a stage presence of warmth and honesty to which audiences respond every time. Place those attributes within a wider setting composed of her peerless peers and you get something extra special. I promised myself that I would avoid using "magical" this time as I've done so many times before in relation to Lauren. Let's go with "mesmerising" for last night instead. What a privilege to have been there.

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