Mistaking aeroplanes for stars with Liz Lawrence at The Angel, Woodbridge

The Angel, Woodbridge/Blue Bus Tour
Monday 18th February 2013

Liz Lawrence Bedroom Hero

We’ve all been bedroom heroes in our time (in one way or another) and Liz Lawrence is clearly no exception, Bedroom Hero being the title track from her debut album. She has, however, moved out of the bedroom, through the front door and toward the limelight with a natural progression her talent deserves.

Beginning her musical journey as a young teen playing guitar with punk and ska bands, LizLiz Lawrence is now very much her own woman, as Bedroom Hero demonstrates. Described as an homage to songwriters who spend many a solitary hour in the bedroom, scratching around with songs in the hope of creating something worthwhile, it is a collection of mature, catchy tunes. Bittersweet lyrics are peppered throughout:  Like the time we denied we were too drunk to remember: That wasn’t the person my mother brought me up to be: All those seeds you sow, where do they go. The whole album is a thing of precocious beauty (there are too many good songs to pick favourites), with not a trace of her early roots playing punk and ska. Although those roots and that experience are in evidence when she picks up her guitar and plays.

The cosy ambience of The Angel could barely contain her captivating, edgy performance. Constantly on the move, her guitar became an extension of herself as she swayed in a gentle breeze of her own making during softer moments, exploding with the force of a hurricane as she punished strings and fingers in a feisty encore. This girl can really play and has a melodic, fresh approach married to a lovely voice. Inevitable comparisons with Laura Marling are not too wide of the mark. The confidence gained supporting acts such as ChrisLiz Lawrence 2 Rea, The Civil Wars, Jake Morley and Ani Difranco has done no harm at all. Her performance was a perfect storm of romantic longing and musical attack. At times it left me almost breathless, and in her company it was all too easy to mistake aeroplanes for stars. As an extra treat there was fantastic support from the brilliant Rhiannon Mair (more on Rhiannon later in the week – I don’t want to spoil you) which made this a hugely enjoyable night.

So, once again The Angel/Blue Bus Tour have done local fans of live music proud. Another wonderful artist playing in our daft little town. At times I almost have to pinch myself (but we all have our personal peccadilloes). If this extraordinary level of performance continues, The Angel may find itself too small a venue (although tonight the crowd was – inexplicably – smaller than usual), which would be a shame because its intimate atmosphere really makes these occasions special.

In case you had forgotten, there is another Blue Bus Tour event at Theta Cafe, Ipswich Waterfront, on Thursday (21st February), featuring three wonderful singer/songwriters – Fiona Bevan, Lucy Sampson and Rhiannon Mair. There may still be a few tickets available so check out the Blue Bus Tour fb page.

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Dying is an art, like everything else.

sylvia plath 2Fifty years ago, on February 11th, 1963, at her flat in Primrose Hill, London, during one of the worst winters on record, American poet and author, Sylvia Plath, killed herself. Inhaling gas from her domestic oven, she ended the life of an extraordinary poet, bringing peace to her fractured mind. But in so doing created a legend – sadly leaving behind her two young children, Frieda and Nicholas. Her husband, British poet Ted Hughes, had left her the previous year for another woman, Assia Wevill.

Born on October 27th, 1932, in Boston, Massachusetts, Plath’s short life was plagued by doubt and personal demons, the disquiet growing with each passing year. Her father, Otto, a strict authoritarian, died when she was just eight years old. His rigorous attitude and death had a profound effect on his young daughter. The ‘man in black’ haunted her life and coloured her relationships, stalking her poetry with heartache and menace. The stark and plaintive Daddy being the most infamous example, which ends;

There’s a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.

A keen writer from an early age – she began keeping a journal from the age of eleven – and an excellent student, she won many prizes for her writing and poetry. However, she suffered regular bouts of debilitating depression, attempting suicide as a result of one such episode in 1953. Despite this she graduated from college and, having earned a Fulbright scholarship, moved to Cambridge, England. In early 1956, while at Cambridge, she met Ted Hughes and was completely besotted with him. Following an intense courtship the pair married later the same year.

sylvia plath 1In 1957, the couple moved to the United States to teach. During this time Plath was almost certainly influenced by the writing of confessional poet, Robert Lowell. Confessional poetry deals with subject matter that is deeply personal to the author. Subjects such as depression and relationships, sex and death, the likes of which had never been treated in this way before. Often autobiographical, confessional poetry exposes the mind and soul of the poet. As a result it can be raw and revealing. In the hands of less gifted, less hard-working writers it can also be self-indulgent and pitiful. But in the hands of artisans such as Lowell, Plath and Anne Sexton (also influenced by Lowell) it is powerful, brutal and revelatory.

After two years the couple returned to England and Plath’s first collection of poetry, The Colossus, was published in 1960. It was to be the only collection published during her lifetime. She gave birth to two children by Hughes, Frieda in 1960, and Nicholas in 1962. As a vocational poet she continued to write prolifically, though the heavy, dark cloud of her illness was never far away.

the bell jarA semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, was published in 1963, under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. Plath insisted on this as she didn’t want her mother, Aurelia, and other thinly disguised characters within its pages, to know she was the author. Writing this extraordinary novel was like holding up a mirror to her own tormented life. It was this book, along with her posthumously published collection of poems, Ariel, that were to cement her reputation as one of the most original, eloquent voices of 20th century poetry. There is a passage in The Bell Jar which sums up Plath’s life as well as any other:

 I knew I should be grateful to Mrs Guinea, only I couldn’t feel a thing. If Mrs Guinea had given me a ticket to Europe, or a round-the-world-cruise, it wouldn’t have made one scrap of difference to me, because wherever I sat – on the deck of a ship or at a street cafe in Paris or Bangkok – I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.

Reading through the poems in Ariel again, I am still struck by the veracious beauty and imagery of the writing. Writing which celebrates the use of bold language, with courage and great skill. Difficult to digest at times – death being seen as a means of escape, for example – there is light within the darkness, impressions of tulips and children, bees and clean, fresh air. Here is The Arrival of the Bee Box from Ariel:

I ordered this, this clean wood box
Square as a chair and almost too heavy to lift.
I would say it was the coffin of a midget
Or a square baby
Were there not such a din in it.

The box is locked, it is dangerous.
I have to live with it overnight
And I can’t keep away from it.
There are no windows, so I can’t see what is in there.
There is only a little grid, no exit.

I put my eye to the grid.
It is dark, dark,
With the swarmy feeling of African hands
Minute and shrunk for export,
Black on black, angrily clambering.

How can I let them out?
It is the noise that appals me most of all,
The unintelligible syllables,
It is like a Roman mob,
Small, taken one by one, but my god, together!

I lay my ear to furious Latin.
I am not a Caesar.
I have simply ordered a box of maniacs
They can be sent back.
They can die, I need feed them nothing, I am the owner.

I wonder how hungry they are.
I wonder if they would forget me
If I just undid the locks and stood back and turned into a tree.
There is the laburnum, its blond colonnades,
And the petticoats of the cherry.

They might ignore me immediately
In my moon suit and funeral veil.
I am no source of honey
So why should they turn on me?
Tomorrow I will be sweet God, I will set them free.

The box is only temporary.

sylvia plath 3It is all but impossible to separate Plath’s life and death from her poetry and prose – so much having been written about both. But her writing does not suffer unduly from critical examination. It was/is quite exceptional, from a remarkable, though chronically disturbed, young woman. As for the bitter argument which runs that if you are ‘for Plath’ then you are – necessarily – ‘against Hughes’, it smacks of little more than childish name-calling. And intelligent, educated people should know better. Of course, their lives will be forever inextricably linked given their history, even after Plath’s death, with Hughes editing collections of her poetry. But, as poets – albeit very different poets – both had the touch of genius in their work, which guarantees its longevity.

The life and tragic death of Sylvia Plath serve as testament to the creative spirit, even in one so afflicted. Her legacy is that not only was she one of the most important and original voices in women’s poetry, but one of the most important and original voices in the entire canon of 20th century poetry.

The title of this piece is taken from Lady Lazarus, a poem from the collection Ariel. There was not much art in the death of Sylvia Plath, but there was a great deal of it in her work.

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Leddra Chapman at The Borderline, London

Wednesday 30th January 2013

leddra chapmanLee Broderick/Kal Lavelle/Leddra Chapman

The Borderline, London is a great place to hear live music. Set in a basement just off Charing Cross Road, near Foyles bookstore, it’s a little rough around the edges (but better for it) and, though the range of drinks available at the bar is not extensive, it’s worth remembering this is primarily a music venue, not a pub. A smallish space (capacity 300 souls) with friendly staff and – most importantly – great sound. The size and layout are conducive to an enjoyable atmosphere, but when full it does get a bit hot and sweaty

lee broderick

Lee Broderick

The evening was kicked off in lively fashion by Lee Broderick. This Liverpudlian singer/songwriter has toured extensively supporting the likes of Paolo Nutini and KT Tunstall. With his own brand of acoustic rock, and noticeable country/folk influences, he had the crowd with him from the first note, demonstrating what a fine musician and singer he is. This was my first experience of Lee and his music, which I enjoyed very much. I shall be keeping an eye out for him in the future and listening to more of his particular musical style.

kal lavelle

Kal Lavelle

When I bought my ticket for this show it was a real bonus to discover that  Kal Lavelle was to provide support. I’ve had the great pleasure of seeing Kal play several times and whenever she takes to the stage, she delivers. Whatever the venue (wherever the venue), this talented girl engages readily with her audience, and last night was no different. The cheeky Irish warmth of her playfully naughty personality belies the strength of her songwriting ability. An ability which allows her to craft deeply personal, seductively raw pieces that speak to the listener on a truthful human level. When she sings you get the impression she feels every word, without any hint of contrivance or theatrics. Kal’s songs mean something.

A regular and extremely popular fixture on the London pub/club circuit, chatty and personable (an Irish girl who likes a chat – who’d have thought?) this young woman deserves everything good that comes her way. Her performance was exemplary and heartfelt with her voice giving real emotion to the songs. See her play if you get the chance and get yourself a copy of her Shivers EP, which is a thing of subtle beauty.

leddra chapman

Leddra Chapman

Following a short interval, Leddra Chapman’s band took the stage to ready themselves and tune-up. They began playing the opening number of their set when the gorgeous creature that is Leddra Chapman strolled out to join them. She immediately demonstrated how comfortable she is in front of a room full of people, with a big smile and twinkle in her eyes, as she picked up her guitar and seamlessly joined in with the band. And then she started to sing. Believe me when I tell you this girl has a fantastic voice and is a great singer.

Previously described as ‘filling a similar space to early Alanis Morissette and Joni Mitchell’, she certainly has the songwriting sensibilities of both women but without the bitter angst of the former. I would also add she is so much more than this. Using her voice to great effect, playing with notes up and down the scale, her versatility as a singer and writer of lyrical tunes is quite something. This young lady is difficult to pin down musically with a range that sees her as soulful balladeer one moment, moving up to quasi-anthemic, crowd-pleasing diva – not a million miles from Florence Welch – the next. And calling at many points in between. She also has a wicked sense of humour. Her songs could be described as scenes from love and life, inasmuch as they engage us directly about the things we all experience; things such as desire, loss, hope and longing. Songs that are very much the unmistakable work of a genuine artist.

This was a brilliant performance from an absolute star and her excellent band (personal highlights included Woman and I Got Rhythm). A band that were pitch perfect, tight and played as a unit rather than a collection of skilled individuals. The lovely female cellist was an inspired touch (musically, of course). I have no doubt that Leddra Chapman will go on to even bigger and better things down the line. Talent like this cannot be ignored and I can’t wait to see them play again. I can also highly recommend her recorded material, which is fantastic.

As a footnote, I would like to respond to some criticism I have received from certain quarters recently (no names – this isn’t a bitchfest). I have been accused of being far too effusive in my praise of certain acts I’ve had the pleasure of seeing. My response is this: I’m not a music critic (but certainly no lickspittle either) and am fully aware I will not receive any awards for my writing. I love music – particularly live music – when it is played by talented, hard-working musicians. None featured in my writing are household names but people who are passionate about their craft and work diligently to be the best they can be. They do the hard yards, playing the pub/club circuit all over the country (and often beyond) in their efforts to make a living doing something they love. The vast majority of them are also really nice people. And I believe they deserve a wider audience.

So, I am not going to criticise any of them. Whatever plaudits are given are thoroughly deserved in my opinion. But that’s all it is – my opinion. If I do see an act which I don’t like or think not very good I shall simply not write about them. Because it is only my opinion after all, and who am I to put them down. Moreover, who really cares what I think.

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What’s God got to do with it?

The argument from certain religious quarters that it’s not possible to live a decent, moral, considerate life without guidance from and belief in a higher, supernatural power has become tiresome. Lacking the tenets and teachings of sacred scripture we faithless fingers touchingheathens are deemed unworthy of respect or trust. Devils made flesh.

Listening to or reading this codswallop you could be forgiven for assuming human qualities such as sagacity and prudence and honesty and empathy are the birthright of only those who believe. And that atheists like myself are malignant, horned heretics. I’m sorry, but this is just the sort of bald, credulous excreta which shows religion in such a bad light. However, unlike many who practice faith, I will acknowledge the right to hold such an opinion (speaking out and defending that right if necessary) and, even though it differs greatly from my own strongly held views, I do not wish to see those with such opinions stoned, burned at the stake, crucified or disfigured by leprosy. However misguided I may think them to be.

Rather than regarding myself as simply an atheist, I would add that I am a humanist, or rationalist. What this means to me is that my beliefs, such as they are, rely on knowing things. Whether that be as a result of scientific proof based on empirical evidence or that which I experience directly through daily life. The contrary position expounded by believers in God, be they Jew, Christian or Muslim, and many others besides, is that this is where faith comes in. This is often also the point at which non-believers are challenged to prove that God does not exist. But unless we return to the playground, how do you prove a negative? I could say that I can prove to anyone present I do not have a crocodile in my pocket and show this – unequivocally – to be the case. But this is not very helpful.

Further, as a humanist, I am connected to every other person on this planet. Not through God, or some hip philosophy induced by an over-indulgence in magic mushrooms, but by the fact we are all members of the same species, with common biology and antecedents.darwin christmas Darwin’s dangerous idea saw him vilified for his theory of evolution. A theory based on keen observation of the world around him. A lack of proof only exacerbated the outrage at the time. But he was a visionary who connected the dots and offered up his deductions despite the consequences. Although his theory was not perfect it explained a great deal of the natural world as we now know it to be. With much of the missing proof since discovered, Darwin’s work was astoundingly accurate and is rightly considered as one of the truly great achievements of science.

Humanism goes deeper than merely acknowledging our origins. It argues that a lack of belief in God does not preclude you from living a good, meaningful life. A life of respect for others, based on reason and truth, compassion and understanding, justice and forbearance. The allegation that we only know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, through the teachings of monotheistic religions is weak and based on a false premise. The premise being that without God we lack the intelligence and grace to determine for ourselves what constitutes acceptable behaviour. Humans have been on this planet for millenia and have developed physically, mentally and emotionally throughout. Paganism is alive and well and whatever you think has been extant far longer than any Our God – Our Rules dogma. People, it seems, need to have something – anything – in which to believe.

humanismNow, you may disagree with everything you have read here, thinking me nothing more than an ignorant existentialist, lacking both the courage and conviction to take the leap of faith required to embrace the superstitious and supernatural. And of course, that is your prerogative. I shall not forgive you – as there is nothing to forgive. It is your conviction and provided no harm is caused as a result of that conviction, you are welcome to express it. I shall not take offence if you print a cartoon of my views, taking the piss and showing me as foolish, or pray for a visitation upon you by a plague of locusts in order that they shit on your head. What is more, if your faith brings you comfort in times of darkness or despair, that is a matter for you.

So, what has the promise of celestial bliss or the fear of eternal damnation got to do with living a good life? Absolutely nothing. Good people sometimes do bad things; and bad people sometimes do worse things. The historical record shows beyond doubt the culpability of the religious and non-religious alike. Our collective past (and present) is littered with examples of such virulent atrocity and inhumanity to our fellows we should hang our heads in shame. We cannot change the past but do we have the will to shape a different future? This can only be achieved by working together, irrespective of beliefs, for common cause and the betterment of all mankind.

And God will have nothing to do with it.

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Here come the girls

Word up (whatever that means). Oh, apparently it’s the code word and no matter where you say it you know that you’ll be heard. Good. So, pay attention and let me ask you all a question; what are you doing with yourselves on 21st February? Nothing? Thought as much. In that case may I suggest you slip your arses into gear and get over to Theta Cafe at Ipswich Waterfront, because there is a gig taking place featuring three gorgeous, extremely talented young women. And these women are: Fiona Bevan, Lucy Sampson and Rhiannon Mair.

Fiona BevanThe last twelve months have been something of a landmark for the wonderful Fiona Bevan. With a residency at Servant Jazz Quarters, London, and a co-songwriting credit (with Ed Sheeran) on One Direction hit ‘Little Things’, Fiona’s stock is on the rise. A bohemian rhapsody of curly-haired sunshine, angel-voiced Fiona writes quirky, beautifully conceived songs that send shivers down your spine and despatch your spirit skyward. Widely acknowledged in the music business as one to watch for her natural ability and originality as a songsmith, she is an absolute delight and will captivate you completely with her blend of soulful pop/folk.

lucy sampson 2A lovely, local girl-next-door-that-you-always-fancied, Lucy Sampson goes from strength to strength with her writing and performances. A growing fanbase which appreciates real talent means the future looks bright. And so it should. A very individual singer/songwriter she has an almost innocent charm and quiet confidence that belie her craft and skill. With country and folk influences and a voice as smooth as a polished dolphin, Lucy’s songs are catchy, tuneful creations of delicate beauty – her ‘Snuggle Song’ is one of the sweetest things you’ll ever hear. A loyal, hard-working supporter of the Suffolk music scene, Lucy Sampson is a musician worth following.

Virtually unknown on the local circuit until she stormed an open mic event recently at The Angel, Woodbridge, pretty little Rhiannon Mair has music in her blood. A singular writerRhiannon Mair 1 and musician, producer and sound engineer, she takes convention and gives it a twist, which results in songs of depth and unexpected tenderness, honesty and heartbreak. Songs with rock and soul in their bones. Try to imagine someone like K T Tunstall, with a beautiful, raw edge. Or broken glass, covered in honey. An energetic performer on stage with a presence that can’t be ignored, and a debut album due in March, 2013 promises to be a big year for Rhiannon Mair.

Well, my hope is to have convinced you all to keep the evening of 21st February free so that you can give yourselves a treat by attending this event. These girls will not disappoint – having seen them all perform live – and you will thank me afterwards. But don’t hang about, pondering the state of your nasal hair, tickets are selling fast. Further details and tickets available via Blue Bus Tour’s Facebook page. All three can be followed/liked on Facebook/Soundcloud etc. as can Theta Cafe and The Angel, Woodbridge.

Wave your hands in the air like you don’t care, glide by the people as they start to look and stare. Do your dance, do your dance, do your dance quick Mama, come on baby tell me what’s the word…?

(Word Up by Cameo – sorry, Larry)

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Something special goes like this

rhiannon mair 2Following the new year birthing celebrations, The Angel, Woodbridge, closed its doors for a couple of days quick refurbishment to lighten the wooden floors, install some new furniture and freshen-up paintwork. And like shaving the beard off a nun, there’s a noticeable difference. On Monday 7th January it hosted the first Music Monday of a fledgling 2013. But things did not get off to a great start.

The act booked to play that evening, the splendid Jacko Hooper, had to cancel at short notice due to him going viral. Or something. Anyway, all was not lost as the event changed to an open mic invitation which was generously supported by some wonderful local artists.

Woodbridge music impresario and the man behind the Blue Bus Tour, Peter Hepworth, kicked the night off in fine style with his deft playing and melodic vocals, before handing over to the gathered acts. These included the always excellent instrumental folk duo, Aartwork, who know how to get your feet tapping; a terrific set of songs from rock-folk maestro Kevin Walford and a flying visit from bluesy songstress Justine De Mierre. Ian Smith provided a spellbinding interlude amidst the voices with some brilliant classical Spanish guitar.

Rhiannon Mair 1However, as with Paper Aeroplanes previously, it was an act unknown to most present who stole the show and got everybody talking. A lovely, slightly built, insanely gifted girl by the name of Rhiannon Mair. An Angel virgin, she took to the microphone for the first time, almost apologetically, and introduced herself while tuning her guitar. Then she started to play and the bar fell silent, completely mesmerised by the beautiful, raw quality of her voice and energetic guitar work. Slighty quirky, original, unique and powerful this young lady has talent to spare and was utterly engaging throughout her set. Everybody loved her – the young and not so young alike – and couldn’t get enough of her bewitching performance. Rhiannon Mair is something special and was the name on everyone’s lips.

Now back in Suffolk after several years in London, Rhiannon has an album release due in March and a gig diary which is filling rapidly. If you enjoy live music you must see this girl play. As with all the acts mentioned (and apologies to those I missed), you won’t be disappointed.

Many thanks to The Angel, Woodbridge, and Blue Bus Tour for hosting another great night of music, and big love to all the performers (who can be liked/followed on facebook/twitter/soundcloud etc). Why not pop your head through the door for one of the regular music nights? Who knows – you might even enjoy it.

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Time to be for Paper Aeroplanes

paper aeroplanes 4The music industry is a notoriously fickle mistress. One moment insisting she is interested only in talent, the next bed-hopping between every Johnny-come-lately pretty face with little (if any) discernible musicality. Therefore, as a genuine music lover, it is always a great privilege to discover a truly talented act previously unknown to oneself. I had such a privilege this week at ‘Music Monday’, co-hosted by The Angel, Woodbridge and the Blue Bus Tour.

Lucy SampsonThe evening began with the wonderful and lovely Lucy Sampson (usually accompanied by the excellent Ian Bearcroft on bass), who is relatively new to the touring circuit and just gets better every time she takes the stage. I have been fortunate enough to see Lucy perform several times and her brand of quirky and heartfelt pop/folk never fails to delight. She held the small crowd at this intimate venue spellbound throughout her supporting set. Her singing, playing and songwriting definitely warrant a wider audience and continued, growing success. You can follow Lucy on facebook and soundcloud to keep up to date and discover her music for yourself. However, the main act on this evening was a band I was unfamiliar with, namely Paper Aeroplanes.

Paper Aeroplanes are writing partnership Sarah Howells and Richard Llewellyn. With a common history in west Wales, they began their musical adventure six years ago, releasing their debut album ‘The Day We Ran Into The Sea’ in 2009. The set contained many songs from this release as well as others from ‘We are Ghosts’ and their new ep ‘Time To Be’. And what a set.

paper aeroplanesThe first thing you noticed was Sarah’s beautiful, haunting voice, at times like that of a tortured angel. Before long the sheer quality and craft of the songwriting became apparent and the duo, aided and abetted on stage by the skilled double bass of John Parker, played peerlessly. Richard’s backing vocals and guitar work being perfectly pitched to compliment Sarah’s own guitar and sexy, melancholic vocals. Vocals which contain heartbreak and hope, desire and despair and (to use their own words) eggshells and shy secrets in their mix of confident, unpretentious contemporary folk.

paper aeroplanes 2Every song was performed with such natural accomplishment and human feeling it was impossible not to be captured by the world within the lyrics. The world of Paper Aeroplanes. The set flew by with great song following great song but the icing on the cake of this musical feast was the finale of the encore. An unplugged version of ‘Newport Beach’ was a beautiful signature.

So, look out for this wonderful band, buy their music and if you get the chance, see them play live. Their time to be has surely come.

The music business is often perverse so it is up to us, ordinary music lovers, to support artists like Paper Aeroplanes and Lucy Sampson. Because they deserve our support. You won’t regret it.

Music Mondays is hosted every fortnight by the Angel, Woodbridge and Blue Bus Tour.

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