There’s a place where you can listen to music in the heart of Manchester, near Piccadilly Station. That is The Whiskey Jar. Of course, there are other venues but there’s surely something about this place and its organiser. Because there’s a large audience and they listen, even though the venue is a pub. I’m guessing it’s in large part due to Joe “Bagpipes“, the regular host. After all, it has the reputation of being “Manchester’s longest running and best open mic night“. On 2 Aug 2022, The Whiskey Jar Open Mic Night welcomes another lot of talented musicians. I get to hear a subset of them.
I arrived late, at the end of the third musician’s set. I will hear later that in effect, I was on time (8.00pm) but the replacement host started early (7.30pm). I felt like a queen for that second 😁 I also later found out the name of that third musician, Jeorgia Rose. You cannot miss her in the crowd. However, it did help that she was directly in my line of sight, sitting virtually opposite me. I speak briefly with her but find out more afterwards. Research tells me she is an 18-year old British country singer. I remembered that I just left some friends who invited me to watch them line dance at the Pride parade this coming 27th of August. This happened after a Dolly cover documentary I watched. I feel country music is after me lol. So I listen to her on Jeorgia Rose Spotify from the popular I will still Remember to the two other offers at the time,
Funny musical man Chris Tavener follows. The folk comedian makes us smile and laugh with his brand of music. The acoustics normally so on point is slightly lacking in clarity so it’s hard to properly hear his jokes from the back (probably my fault for being at the back!). He has 3 songs on offer for us. The first one is All I need. The second one is How to truly win at life from his 2022 EP release Easy Ways To Be Happy and the last one Bill Gateswas my favourite. I remember catching his set a while ago during a So Far Manchester I attended and reviewed in 2018. It is so good to see and hear him remain the “satirical singer-songwriter, known for his comedic, witty lyrics and a vintage sound”.
They Valleys IG @_the_valleys
A couple of musicians speak to the host. It seems they are going to be next. Spencer Grant is on guitar and vocals. Jeremy (Howling) Webster on harmonica. Their Instagram says they are “a fresh new band consisting of a bunch of friends with musical talents”. Tonight they are two. From their choice of song cover to their interpretation, I am in. Even the pitch slides could not hide the talent. The karaoke that messed up with Grant’s vocals does not quite matter. To have chosen the very beautiful and traditional Henry Martin as a song shows discernment. Joan Baez would be proud but would probably have a go at them for spoiling the vocals on karaoke (or is it just me?)! Ain’t No sunshinefollows and the voice seems to recover some of its original timbre hitting the pitches. The harmonica was so well played on both pieces, subtly enhancing its tone.
Coeur Vaillant serves us his usual brand of well-constructed songs and infectious melodies on guitar. He has two pieces for this occasion: a “love” song on a bed of 7 sins and a fight song about freedom. The public is conquered. From head voice to falsetto, the public takes the trip with the singer-songwriter. It is not long ago that we were falling in love with Coeur Vaillant’s first single Spring Always Returns. The tireless musician honours his childhood passion, working hard towards his ultimate music dream.
In between sets, I meet Robert. Robert is a regular audience member at the Wednesday evening open mic. But he thought he would try out the Tuesday evening open mic that the venue also offers. He explains that he comes to listen and relax. He likes the atmosphere and enjoyed the last set. I tell him the name of the last act is Coeur Vaillant. I try to decipher the enigma of the foreign name and pronunciation. Coeur Vaillant in effect is Valiant Heart in English. There is a backdrop of knight time and day dream right there. I somehow also manage to drop that I’d like to perform here. Yes, you heard it, I basically inserted right there that I too am a musician. I am half-proud to have dropped some self-promotion there, something at which I am execrable. And to mark the following embarrassment I systematically feel (which will no doubt mean no promotion for hours), I’ll move ever so swiftly to the next subject. Robert says the ambiance is different to when Joe leads. The usual host makes sure no one talks during the sets, twitches the knobs to ensure the sound is at its best. Yes the music and its conveyor are king. This host is nice and cool and relaxed.
Before I leave
Robert compliments Coeur Vaillant as the musician returns to his seat. The host then performs. It is not the regular host, known as Joe Bagpipes. Shame, I wanted to finally meet him. This organiser performs what I understand to be Harvest (Neil Young). He follows up with a second song that sounds like a Nick Drake’s cover.
I am suddenly feeling tired and ill at ease. It’s humid and hot. I realise I need to leave before the end. Shame. It was a nice hour and a half shared with music lovers and music givers. I hear there’s another open mic on Thursdays but this time at a nearby venue, Stage & Radio at 7pm. It will be for another time. Robert will stay as usual until 11pm. But I need to end my night right there, right now. It is outside that I meet the Valleys again and get a lot of information about them. I am outside so I am feeling better. Live is well and truly back and that has made me feel great. But it seems that this whole lockdown thing has made it a little more difficult to be in crowded places for a long time. Or maybe it is the heat and humidity, whichever came first. Either way, I was happy to have been there and to have listened and witnessed some of the great next generation of musicians.
To think of Ralph McTell live @ Words & Music Festival
The Words & Music Festival team have done it again. Via their newly-formed Nantwich Roots Festival, they have brought in another legend, filled in the seats against the variants tide and programmed a delicious set at the Nantwich Civic Hall. Ralph McTell is the headliner, supported by Liverpool-based musician Anna Corcoran.
I am lucky enough to have been invited. Ralph McTell is a treat for me. The grounded and humble artist serves unpretentious Folk for the most heart-warming feel. My soul had been starving for food unspoiled by artificial sweeteners and my belief I’d find it on the musician’s set was vindicated. The artist took us on a trip of soul food, great friendship, musicianship and insight into the origin of his songs.
Producer and festival co-organiser Nigel Stonier introduces the evening and announces what was indeed going to be a great night.
I’m sitting next to a little girl and her father. Later I find out that her name is Abigail. She was at one point Ralph McTell’s youngest fan, at 4 years old. She was certainly the youngest at the concert on this day. She has met our act before. In fact, she was in a related BBC programme testifying of that. And she will later go and say hi again, backstage. She will come back having realised that my name was on the Words & Music Festival shirt she was wearing. I think she blushed, how lovely. That made me smile. I love her name, Abigail. I will then take a photo with her, but not as a performing artist giving her that gift. She is the music sensitive artist who wants to learn the guitar and is already appreciating the art. This photo is for me when she becomes a star as I know she will. And I will show it to her to remind her we once had this wonderful experience. Of course, I am not going to post it here! She’s underaged! But for the moment, we are going to watch Ralph McTell live!
Supporting act Anna Corcoran starts off the night with a collection of well-received originals and covers. Her versatile piano playing accompanied her lovely vocals to support a varied set including 2016 album’s pieces Adelphi and All That’s Pretty. The Americana Music Awards UK 2021 instrumentalist of the year has played with the likes of Laura Marling and showcases her talent during her opening set. You can find more of what she does at her Facebook page, Anna Corcoran on Facebook.
After the break, the hearts are served a mix of song explanation in the form of inspirational narration (clearly never meant as much more than contextualisation) and nourishing songs that they had been yearning for.
First love – The first song is that of the boy who invented himself a persona to attract the opposite sex. It is a story seldom told but so often experience by all genders. At this point, this is my favourite song of the set (and my known favourite songs has not even made it yet).
The story of Harlem’s Reverend Bill unveils one of McTell’s musical heroes, inspirational blues and a sweet example of literal blind faith. The Black Blues artists who have fed McTell’s musical muse would be proud that he has developed a style of his own, that his audience relates to.
Capehorn – A 1928 film subtext inspires the next, strumming song. McTell continues to delight with his blend of simple pleasures and uncomplicated waves underpinned by lessons of a life well-observed and simply lived. The lyrical punchline asserts that to love your life, you have to flirt with death.
The next song requires a change of guitar. The artist entertains us with his humble and funny (in the simplest way) narration. “Nigel,” (the organiser) he tells us, “has trouble playing this song.” So maybe the trick is to sit like Ralph to avoid the guitar constantly escaping your grasp. Nigel later tells me that the song is called Nettle Wine. As McTell plays, I’m reminded of the typical Folk arrangements that the likes of Georges Brassens also add to their arrangements. This time, I hesitate to say this is my favourite song so far because I have already been proven wrong three times during the same set.
Michael in the Garden is a ’70s song. It tells the story of a boy institutionalised because people did not understand his way of saying things. McTell remembers parents coming to him and saying “you’re talking about my boy.” Then the word autism came about I guess. I think that’s what I like about this man. He doesn’t wait for acceptance to see, to sing the obvious injustice, what a boy may have endured wrongly for misunderstanding and difference.
Talking about guitars had McTell start reminiscing about the late Scottish Folk musician Herbert Jansch (Bert) who changed the way British acoustic guitar players played. Thalis led him to transition to a song Bert Jansch arranged, Blackwaterside(I’ve also seen it written as Blackwater Side and Black Waterside hmm…) which he then covered for us.
Another change of guitar leads the songwriter back to the one he’s had since he was 19. He tells us of his friendship with Bert, a man with whom he’s had lots of adventures all over Netherlands, USA, Spain, etc. He cannot but think of his friend every time he plays the guitar for the time they shared and the tips and tricks they exchanged for best playing their favourite instrument. The nostalgia particularly hit as he changes his strings every night.
I really, really don’t want to say that Gammel Danskis my favourite so far. The lyricism is on point, cinematographic and all at once lifting and grounding. The chord progression is beautiful. All that seems to invade my head are the last words “And the rain turned back to snow”.
I was right not to say that Gammel Dansk was my favourite even as only the first few chords of the next song had resounded. One of the musicians who changed his life, this is the 2nd time he plays this, rolling guitar player with a wonderful voice and a beautiful smile – Ralph wrote this just the other day – a little Americana “Mississippi John”
Mr McTell then serves a beautiful, beautiful lullaby “When they were young“. The song was repetitively requested and its air reminds us why. For a moment, I am taken to the most peaceful place within myself. There is love, nostalgia and melancholy. I know for sure there is no point trying to pick a favourite now.
The next song is The Girl On The Jersey Ferry. Ralph Mctell blends melancholy and passion in the piece. The idea germinated from a scene in the movie Citizen Kane. This boy saw this girl on the Jersey Ferry and knew instantly that he was going to spend the rest of his life with her. But she left never and never came back.
Ralph McTell now gets up again to play the rest of his set. I’m thinking how appropriate it is that Abigail was falling asleep (it is late after all) as the guitarist starts performing The Girl From the Hiring Fair. I find the lyrics a little sensual, nothing scandalous (especially considering what pop has been serving us) but still. I loved the lyrics though, gosh, what penmanship!
There is no Ralph McTell live set complete without the song. The Streets of London is dedicated to Jeff (Jeff Pownell, I later find out). I am entranced. The public is one. The main man sings and asks us to join and no voice is louder than another. We sing as one, as a rehearsed choir and it sounds like magic. Nantwich has a beautiful unanimous voice with a beautiful rendition that all at once thanks and celebrate the man.
We get to another one of his heroes. This time it is for American Blues influencer, composer, masterful guitar player and singer Robert Johnson for whom he wrote a song. He reminds us here again of the debt he feels he owes these Black Blues icons. The song’s title is simply The Ghost Of Robert Johnson.
When McTell says “thank you”, my heart sinks. Where has the time gone? Why is it already finished. But the singer-songwriter keeps on giving and before we know it, there is another song. It is the song From Clare To Here. I feel better already. But I know the end is near and at least now I can prepare myself mentally. And the ballad is calming so I am more than grateful.
For his encore, Ralph McTell goes to another kind of hero. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan is the 1963 second album by the Folk musician. The album, McTell tells us, changed the way people made songs, bringing a new wind in music (I wonder if the pun was intended). Suze Rotolo shares the album cover with the legend and later writes a book A Freewheelin’ Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties about her time with Bob Dylan and other artists. What they create on the cover (shot on West 4th Street And Jones) though sums up the feeling that goes throughout the album, two people free to make music. The song West 4th Street And Jones is an homage to the inspiration the cover, the Folk legend that is Bob Dylan and the book inspired. It is probably why he picks up the harmonica (to complement the guitar), an instrument that has a tendency to feature on Dylan’s songs.
The audience is sated. The smile have not left their faces as they realise the set has reached its most natural end. It is hard to deny what a great evening we have just spent.
There is something in Vienna’s sound that makes you believe that she is already inscribed in the Hall of Music fame and its tapestry in Time. Her voice has a natural sensuality that accompanies music as if it were its confident. From the first song of the debut album (Song of Ruth), it is what hits you. It exudes confidence further demonstrated in songs like Dare we Dance. It surprises you with a toe-tapping head-swinging singalong but only by its own unique hand and rules, as in “Madeleine” and “Benedict”.
The arrangements and production must earn their own little mention in the way that they so well complement the voice and yet allow the song to be its own shade of light. The subtle marks of careful instrumentation here and there as we hear e.g. in We the Jailbirds just add to the overall charm exuding from the tracks. We look forward to seeing Vienna doing more production, no doubt, making an even stronger mark in refining her sound. It takes a listener
There would never be a point trying to box this artist. She wonders in the depths of her creativity with only one restraint: to be herself, express herself, never pretend. “It’s What the Dog Saw” (+~Dear Child) is the line of tracks that almost reflects her music personality: even the simple (sound) wave can hide a disruptive storm. What is most admirable about her sound, her voice, is probably its ability to exert restraint whilst roaring intensity. This demonstration is almost a summary of Vienna’s music: exquisite contradiction that takes you by the gut.
Vienna D’Amato Hall in 10 songs
It’s What the Dog Saw
King of Keys
Famous Blue Raincoat: A heartfelt rendition of a famous song by a fellow countryman
TRINITY LABAN ALUM FELA KUTI HONOURED WITH PLAQUE AT GREENWICH SITE
Trinity Laban alum Fela Kuti – afrobeat pioneer and political activist – was honoured today with a commemorative plaque. Part of the Black Plaque Project and Trinity Laban’s Black Culture 365 programme, the temporary memorial was installed at the conservatoire’s Faculty of Music at Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich.
At the installation were Dele Sosimi, musician and Musical Director for Fela Kuti’s Eypt 80, Trinity Laban’s Director of Music Havilland Willshire, Founder and Producer of Black Culture 365 Juliet Jackman, and Nubian Jak Founder Dr Jak Beula. Kuti’s son Femi and grandson Made sent a message of thanks and support from Nigeria. Like his grandfather, Made Kuti is also a Trinity Laban alum, having graduated in 2018.
Fela Kuti (1938-1997) studied composition and trumpet performance at Trinity Laban (then Trinity College of Music), arriving in 1958. He went on to become one of the World’s best-loved performers, pioneering the Afrobeat sound which continues to be a major influence on today’s charts. Through his music and his activism, Kuti also became a leading figure within Nigerian and pan-African politics.
The commemorative plaque is part of the Black Plaque Project. A partnership between Nubian Jak Community Trust and Havas London, the project aims to redress the balance of commemorative blue plaques in London, of which only 1.6% currently represent Black people. The project sees the temporary installation of 30 plaques remembering key Black figures, their contribution to history and connection to the capital. The public is invited to visit the plaques and find out more, with an interactive map available at blackplaqueproject.com.
Speaking at the installation, Dele Sosimi said:
“Words fail me. I am buzzing, I am glowing, I am so proud. It’s a lovely thing… I feel like the plaque represents my joy and pride. Fela was a live and let live guy, he had so much love and respect for art. He was a true artist. He always said to me ‘it’s all about holding down the groove’ so as his rhythm pianist, I always held the groove. Right from day one, I was hooked. I teach afrobeat here at Trinity Laban, so to see this here, now – hopefully it will encourage more students to participate in afrobeat and spread the horizon of up and coming musicians.”
Trinity Laban’s Director of Music Havilland Willshire said:
“At Trinity Laban, we are enormously proud that Fela Kuti, who made such great achievements in music and in politics, is one of our own. It is fantastic to be able to honour him in this way: it is recognition that is overdue and well deserved. The timing is synergistic, as we recently launched Trinity Laban’s year-round commitment to celebrating Black history and art, Black Culture 365. It is a pleasure to celebrate Fela, and all of the inspirational figures that the Black Plaque Project honours.”
The Fela Kuti plaque will be on site at Trinity Laban’s King Charles Court for three weeks.
Trinity Laban is London’s Creative Conservatoire: an internationally celebrated centre of excellence, offering world-class training in dance, music and musical theatre. Trinity Laban identifies, supports and develops a diverse intake of talented performers and creators, wherever they may be found and throughout their creative lives. The supportive atmosphere, outstanding landmark buildings and innovative curriculum at Trinity Laban instil technical excellence and enable creativity to flourish, transforming those with potential into resourceful, enterprising and adaptable artistic leaders. Trinity Laban also provides exciting opportunities for the public to encounter dance and music, and to access arts health programmes. www.trinitylaban.ac.uk | @trinitylaban
About The Black Plaque Project
African and Caribbean community organisation Nubian Jak and creative agency Havas London have teamed up to create The Black Plaque Project: a new initiative to commemorate the rich, diverse contributions of Black people throughout history through a series of black plaques across the capital.
London’s famous blue plaques have served as a permanent tribute to Britain’s notable men and women since 1866 – yet only 1.6% of those honoured in this official way are of African or Caribbean descent. Often ignored or discriminated against by the establishment during their lifetime, many historically significant individuals continue to be excluded posthumously. Their names, and the important contributions they made to society, are at risk of being forgotten or even erased from history forever.
To raise awareness of this imbalance and do something visible to address it, The Black Plaque Project will see specially designed black plaques installed on buildings across London to celebrate the lives of some of its many notable Black residents – who, despite their achievements, continue to be officially overlooked. www.blackplaqueproject.com
British musician Steve Pledger has managed what many of us are still seeking: to channel our emotions, our passionate reactions, our vision into a melody and lyrics that sit together as if under the influence of the windy afflatus. The main feeling with which the song leaves you is the urge to hug the songwriter thank you. The uncomplicated arrangement and instrumentation convey serenity that only craftsmanship grows. I haven’t wanted to share a song this much in ages and I think this has just lit my passion anew. Keep them coming beautiful human!
Taking inspiration from the courage and monumental work of health workers during the Corona virus pandemic, the music artist goes beyond the 8pm claps to lay a befitting song for the selfless healers. In line with the period in which it was created, the writing and recording happened at home, more precisely end of May. The beauty and peace of the song goes to show the silver linings in the worst situations and Reseda, in all its meaning, is that to covid.
But enough talk, listen to the song for yourself right here:
The following text appears on his website regarding nicely summing up the feeling behind the song and its context:
“It is hard to imagine the strain that is being placed on individuals who are working at the sharp-end of healthcare during the Covid-19 pandemic, but also on the relationships they are maintaining and upon which they are doubtless relying more than ever. The song seeks to reflect and respect that, and all those who anxiously wait at home along with those who give themselves over to the Herculean task of caring for those fighting for their lives… and it comes with boundless gratitude.”
‘Reseda‘, amongst other things, is a woman’s name of Latin origin meaning ‘Healer’ or ‘Healing’.