Wednesday, 30 October 2019

GIG REVIEW: Marry Waterson & Emily Barker - Hare and Hounds, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Tuesday 29th October 2019

Songwriting retreats where artists formally meet up to share and hone their craft appear to be increasingly popular. It's not that audiences are open to such things, just that more and more songs are being introduced as originating from these structured events. This has happened on consecutive nights during a current run of four straight gigs. First Robert Vincent preluded a new song with a story of it being a co-write with James House at one of these events. Now a pair of artists have taken the concept a whole step forward by not only meeting up to write one song, but continue the association to come up with a whole album. This process is not just a vehicle for novices to plot their way forward. Indeed Robert Vincent has written some excellent songs prior to his involvement and the two songwriters who spun the whole concept in a new direction are no other than established operators, Emily Barker and Marry Waterson. 

Earlier this year, A WINDOW TO OTHER WAYS introduced the collaboration of these two artists to the recorded world with the next step to tour the album in several venues around the country. Birmingham's Hare and Hounds hosted the Midlands staging, which was enabled by a joint promotion between Moseley Folk Festival and the Kitchen Garden. Like the other dates on the tour, Trevor Moss and Hannah Lou were the billed support act, but just has had occurred on previous dates, illness restricted the appearance with Trevor Moss riding this gig solo. Not that this guy is going to hold back and miss the opportunity to share some of the songs that made this husband and wife duo a popular act on the acoustic, folk and alternative circuit over the last decade. 

From the solo guitar of Trevor Moss, the evening grew into a four-piece operation as Emily and Marry entered the stage backed by the ever present Lukas Drinkwater on basses and Rob Pemberton on drums. What was striking as this gig breezed through its seventy-minute setlist were the multitude of differences between the pair and how well things had gelled to bring the collaboration to this point. 

First of all Marry Waterson is a straight up no frills vocalist. Steeped in the tradition of the English song and born into a family of folk royalty. Ample evidence was aplenty that we were in the presence of an immense talent. The latter implication is totally understated when it comes to Emily Barker, who can somewhat leave you drained when keeping up with her diverse and eclectic approach to making music. Not only were her glacial vocals in contrast to shades of earthy Yorkshire finesse that seep into Marry's, but she proceeded to play acoustic guitar, electric guitar, keyboard, banjo and harmonica. It became apparent during the show that many of the songwriting ideas came from Marry, but breathed a whole new life when colliding with the artistic innovation of Emily.

A quick peep at the setlist revealed the entire album was played during the set, which left a couple of spaces for each artist to take the sole spotlight to further extol what they offer from a more individual perspective. Emily Barker, an artist who never stands still, played a couple of new songs from her next solo project, similarly to what she did when last in the area while playing a solo gig in nearby Smethwick. Marry Waterson's efforts were straight from the iconic folk playbook; no music required as the voice is all that's needed. 

As the evening rolled towards its conclusion, we were treated to the popular song 'Bright Phoebus', introduced as written by Marry's uncle, Michael Waterson, and one that Emily had been singing long before this collaboration was born. To send folks home content, all four protagonists stepped off mic to the front of the stage to sing the traditional song 'Some Old Salty'. Job done and the possibility that maybe we will never see this collaboration in action again.

On the journey home, thoughts turned to how many different formats Emily Barker had been seen live in. The count proceeded: solo, duo with Lukas, own band, Red Clay Halo, Venna Portae, Applewood Road and now in conjunction with Marry Waterson. There may even have been more. Final thought ended with the precious appreciation of witnessing two exceptional artists conspiring to take their music in new directions. Renewal and innovation remains the oxygen of keeping live music fresh.