FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: COST OF LIVE CRISIS
From pandemic closures to limits on audiences to liberation once more, live music has had a rollercoaster ride over the past two and a half years. As the autumnal chill creeps onwards, venue owners and promoters are anxiously awaiting clarity on how the promised help on energy bills will be delivered. You can hardly put a show on without power while no one wants to freeze while waiting for their favourite band to appear. This is to say nothing about the rising costs musicians face in actually creating music and then turning up to play.
With 18 different acts already booked to appear in October, it is at least encouraging that my local heroic record store and live promoter, Banquet Records, is showing no signs of cutting back on live shows and audience numbers are holding up despite the pressure on purses. We start this week with a Banquet show at my home church of St John’s in Kingston where a full house witnessed an energetic and passionate performance from visiting US songstress, Lissie.
Flanked by two British musicians – her solo support act, Hannah Ashcroft on backing vocals plus ace guitarist Sam Quinn, Lissie was here to promote her latest and fifth studio album, Carving Canyons. Tonight, she offered a well-chosen set of six from it together with three older numbers. Between songs the Rock Island, Illinois native talked about her time living on a farm in North East Iowa, opening out about the stories behind the new record. These shone a personal light on a romantic break-up and isolation in lockdown with consequence separation from much of her much-loved craft.
She eased into the set with the melodic flow of “Unravel”, its sentiments disentangling the emotion surrounding the end of a relationship and supplanting it with a simple acceptance. As the set unfolded, the impression was of an artiste who has fully worked things out for herself and so displays a confidence and a bright persona which is genuinely infectious. Her vocal tone is such that comparisons with Stevie Nicks will surface yet Lissie brings an energy and presence to the live stage that is all her own.
There were high points aplenty along the way: “Flowers” had a pivotal feel about it seeming to balance the light and dark of her experiences and the harmonic interplay between Lissie and Hannah as song came to a close was a joy. “Chasing the Sun” had a lighter pop feel to it and something of the spirit of Lionel Ritchie to it – in terms of a groove it could have easily segued into “All Night Long” – while the album’s redemptive title track was sung with passion and veuve. Lissie delighted a devoted full house with the closer “Everywhere I Go” from her 2010 debut album. Live, this song was as spirited and anthemic as they come.
Photos of Lissie & Hannah Ashcroft by Kevin England
In addition to providing able backing vocals for Lissie, Manchester indie singer-songwriter, Hannah Ashcroft, opened the show with a short set of her own confidently delivered songs. Her angular electric guitar style lent her music a sharper edge while vocally Hannah shares more common ground with US indie acts like Snail Mail and Soccer Mommy than her British peers, though she fruitfully collaborated with the UK’s Beth Orton on the elegiac “Shadow”, a set highlight tonight. Hannah’s talents were recognised when she was longlisted in the 2022 Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition. Fresh on the Net listeners have also voted her a Fresh Fave on four occasions, the latest being in February this year with the excellent “Amoeba”, with which she closed her set tonight.
From live music to the recorded variety. It was great to hear that Detweiler has a new single out. I have been a fan of the Hartlepool native brother-sister act of David and Marianne Holt since first hearing the dance anthem, “Passionista”, last year. It was a pleasure to have the pair on the bill when curating a show last February at The Bedford with Barbara and Blanid. Detweiler is now back with a new single, “Worth It”, which continues the duo’s knack for invoking the “healing properties of the dancefloor” in Marianne’s words. The song is “essentially a public service announcement to listeners to stop what they’re doing, get dolled up, and release their inner hedonist” she continued.
Inspired by queer joy and losing your inhibitions to ease away anxieties, “Worth It” is a workout accessible to all, driven by synth pads, arpeggios, synth bass and Nile Rodgers-inspired guitar. Detweiler’s music is composed and produced DIY style in David's home in Leighton Buzzard but for the first time this track has been mixed and mastered externally by a good friend, Josh Ingledew of Newcastle’s Blank Studios. It sounds like there is plenty more new music in the pipeline from the band too.
London-based Italian singer-songwriter Francesca Guerra has followed her stellar summer single with the conflicting title of “Pathetic” with a new release, “Can’t Stop The Rain”. Francesca brings her customary production values and vocal polish to the new song which this time is a writing collaboration with producer, Greg West. The song employs a more conventional structure to which Francesca layers her signature vocal and harmonies, full of longing and vibrant expression. Lyrically she laments the setbacks of youth and difficulty of achieving your dreams against a backcloth of societal expectations; sentiments that are earnestly yet smoothly delivered against a widescreen of accented beats and lush instrumentation. Francesca is consistently delivering high quality chilled pop music deserving of a wider audience.
We will close today with a plug for “More Coffee” – The Happy Somethings’ Fundraiser for Macmillan Cancer Support. Indeed, today is the annual World's Biggest Coffee Morning to raise money for the charity. The altruistic East Midlanders have recorded four versions of their original song – Original, Decaf, Latte, Espresso. As often with THS, the lyrics to “More Coffee” are peppered with wry observations that bring a smile to your face alongside some darker moments of insight. Cramming words in where they should not fit, Joy skates across an undulating melody while her bandmates’ bracketed responses are a neat little touch.
Have a listen to the Original version here and then head to Bandcamp where you can pick up an EP of all four variants and make a donation to Macmillan. Simples.