Monday, 11 November 2013

Jim Moray - Union Chapel 10th Anniversary Party - 9/11/2013

Jim Moray described the event as a ‘Party’. This is certainly the first party I have attended that involved sitting on a pew for three hours. However, it was a truly special event. The Union Chapel is a beautiful building with spectacular architecture. Even with such a large audience, the event still felt intimate and friendly. The venue was very cold though, which is expected, given that it is November. 

During the first half of the concert Jim Moray performed songs from his debut album 'Sweet England’ in order to celebrate the tenth anniversary of its release. He seemed a little nervous as he took to the stage, though he needn't have been, given the enthusiastic and supportive nature of the audience. Throughout the set, there was a string quintet, ‘The Dorset Ensemble’, on stage adding beautiful accompaniments to Jim’s wonderful singing and guitar playing. Furthermore, the talented musicians Nick Malcolm (trumpet), Nick Cooke (melodeon) and Dave Burbridge (drums), normally called ‘the Skulk Ensemble', contributed to many of the songs giving them a much fuller sound.

Jim began by playing the song ‘Early One Morning’, a natural choice given it is the first track on ‘Sweet England’. This song included a beautiful accompaniment by the strings. Furthermore its upbeat melody and punchy vocals made it both enjoyable and exciting.

Jim Moray admitted that he had not performed some of the songs from 'Sweet England' since the first tour. However, it was particularly nice to hear these songs that are so often overlooked. One of the highlight was the performance of ‘April Morning'. The arrangement of this song is more simple compared to some of his new material; however it is also very beautiful. A heavy drum beat was not necessary to compel the audience to listen. The simple melody and delicate guitar accompaniment were very fitting to be played in such a striking building.

Jim utilised many pre-recorded backing tracks and aural embellishments during the first half in order to replicated the sound of the album ‘Sweet England’. Although it seemed a little strange initially, it was very effective. ‘Seeds of Love’ is an example where Jim used his intricate sound engineering skills to create a dark setting for the words. This really suits the song and makes it stand out as being very unusual compared to other versions.

Jim Moray seemed more confident for the second half. Furthermore, I think the sound quality had been improved during the interval, so there was not so much of an echo effect around the chapel. He appeared on stage with his talented sister, Jackie Oates, before playing the Folk Award winning Song ‘Lord Douglas’. Jackie Oates has a very pure voice that complements Jim’s perfectly, and is a lovely addition to this fantastic song. Jim’s brilliant guitar playing was also very noticeable, and although he does not make it look as effortless as some musicians, the sound he creates is lovely. He varied the volume and speed of his playing to fit the narrative of the song and this maintains interest as it is quite long and contains a rather complex plot.

This was followed by Jackie singing ‘the Death of Queen Jane’, which she claimed she sang in order to mark the birth of the royal baby.This is an incredibly slow and depressing song and a very strange choice for the ‘party’. However, Jackie has a beautiful and haunting voice that reverberated around the chapel.

Following this, Ben Walker and Josienne Clarke took to the stage to play a song from their latest album which Jim has contributed to massively. Josienne has a pleasant and relaxing voice and Ben Walker played guitar wonderfully whilst Jim Moray played piano. Jim and Josienne sang the broken-token ballad ‘Jenny of the Moor’ with Jim singing the part of ‘Denis’ and Josienne singing the part of ‘Jenny’. The idea of splitting the narrative of this song is very effective to convey the story. Additionally, they made a brilliant duet and Ben Walker played guitar on the track, although this was slightly overshadowed by Jim’s guitar playing.

Maz O’Connor’s appearance on stage was a slight surprise, although a very welcome one. Jim Moray has been producing her latest album, so it was pleasing that she contributed to the ‘party’. She played a very pretty song called ‘London lights’ which Jim Moray understandably described as his favourite. Jim admitted that they had only practised the performance three times previously. Maz played piano and Jim played guitar on the track and together the song was powerful and beautiful.
Bella Hardy was invited on to stage to sing ‘Three Black Feathers’, which she claimed she started writing during her GCSE maths exam. It is beautiful night visiting song that Jim Moray “stole” and recorded on his album ‘Low Culture’. The song has an incredibly traditional feel which suited the gentle accompaniment. Bella and Jim singing together was perfect; certainly another highlight.

Next came the Keston Cobbler Club bringing rhythm and harmonies. They were certainly the most energetic group of the evening. The addition of tuba and trumpet created a lively atmosphere.. They remained on stage to play the night visiting song ‘Seven Long Years’ and were joined by all the performers of that evening. This song is just perfect for such a large group of talented artists. Jim clearly enjoyed this moment enormously and so did the audience.  The vocal harmonies, lively instrumentation and rhythmic beat made it a brilliant finale. The song ended with a standing ovation and unbelievably enthusiastic round of applause from the audience. Jim seemed relieved that his music had gained such a great reaction from the audience. He raised his glass to the audience as a thank you before departing the stage.

But the audience would not let him off that lightly. Jim, Jackie and Nick Cooke returned to the stage for one final song – ‘Wishfulness Waltz’. This song was written by Jim for Jackie and it is recorded on her album ‘the Violet Hour’. However, Jim Moray recently “stole” it back and now regularly plays it at his concerts. The audience was invited to sing along to the chorus. It was incredibly affecting to hear it sung by Jackie and Jim together and was the perfect ending to the evening. I do not want to overuse the word 'beautiful', but this moment really was beautiful.

Jim Moray’s Website :

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Gilmore & Roberts (+ Jess Morgan and Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin) – Norwich Arts Centre – 31/10/2013

Well, I will admit that I bought tickets to this gig to see Gilmore and Roberts, but I can safely say that I am now consequently a fan of Phillip Henry, Hannah Martin and Jess Morgan as well. I was expecting Gilmore and Roberts to be more of a headliner, but they all played equal 45 minute slots, which serves me right for not reading the information properly. Nevertheless, it was a fantastic evening and I loved everything that was played.

The evening was kicked off by Jess Morgan, a local singer songwriter playing songs that tell stories about “women and men, life and death, work and play; the adventures of the real and the imaginary”, I quote from her website. She has, in my opinion, a gorgeously distinctive voice, one which I could have listened to for the whole evening, in fact! Her percussive guitar playing is all the accompaniment that her songs require – simple but effective. Memorable songs from the evening were 'The Missionary', 'Modern World' and 'Travelling Song', all beautiful examples of what she does.

Next up were Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin. Now, I hadn’t really listened anything by this duo before the gig, so I wasn't really sure what to expect, but I certainly wasn't disappointed! They have an amazing sound with influences from traditional British roots to Indian classical and American blues with instrumentation including the dobro, guitar, vocals and beatbox harmonica from Phillip Henry and fiddle, banjo and vocals from Hannah Martin. As I'm not too familiar with them, I unfortunately can't remember many of the names of the songs that they played, but I know for a fact that they played a version of Death and The Lady and it was incredible. I'm very familiar with the versions by both Bellowhead and James Findlay, and this was unlike anything I've heard before, in a very good way! Roughly during the middle of the set, Hannah Martin left the stage, leaving Phillip Henry to play a harmonica solo, which truly was incredible. It was a combination of what you might call 'normal' harmonica playing, with beatboxing and vocals, it got the previously sedate crowd bobbing up and down and clapping, which was excellent.

15 minutes later, Gilmore and Roberts began. Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts to be precise. They started with 'The Stealing Arm' with amazingly skilful lap tapping guitar playing from Roberts and mandolin from Gilmore. It is a brilliantly catchy song, a favourite of mine, about an arm transplant that goes terribly wrong. They then went straight into 'Seven Left for Dead' which again, included immaculate, precision playing on guitar and fiddle. In between songs, they told of Katriona's sat-nav theft when leading into 'Silver Screen' and humorous Halloween facts, as it was indeed the evening of Halloween. They ended with 'Scarecrow', the first track on their latest album (The Innocent Left), which is a brilliant song with forceful, dramatic playing from both. It seemed to me that the set was over too soon, they were fantastic, and fortunately the rest of the crowd thought so too – demanding an encore. They came back with 'Poison', a cover of Alice Cooper would you believe and the B-side to their single 'Doctor James' (out now), it worked amazingly well with guitar, mandolin and powerful vocal harmonies from both. A success all round I'd say.

Jess Morgan

Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin

Gilmore & Roberts