Watch the session here: https://youtu.be/59LIObHESxE
There is also exciting news in the career of my amazing student Breeze Redwine who has just won Best Original Artist at this year's Youngstars South East Entertainment Awards, another award to her growing list of achievements. She also recently performed a brilliant acoustic set at Sonic Youth, Norwich Art's Centre's music development programme for ages 14-19. It is really great how they provide young artists with exciting music opportunities and a platform to perform their original material.
Sunday Session at Burnham Deepdale
I am looking forward to playing some lovely local gigs and festivals this summer. My next headline show is on June 17, a special acoustic Sunday Session at beautiful Burnham Deepdale on the stunning North Norfolk coast. More information and tickets are here:
On Friday July 6 July I’m excited to be performing for the first time at Stradisphere festival in Stradbroke, Suffolk, alongside Breeze. A brilliant line-up for this family friendly festival includes acclaimed songwriter Badly Drawn Boy, chart-toppers Sam and the Womp, country pop artist Hannah Paris and local Americana band Morganway. Organisers say this year’s event, which is in its fifth year, will be the biggest one yet.
For more information on Stradisphere visit https://www.stradisphere.co.uk
I’m delighted to be making a return to Reepham Festival in August which has grown to become one of the highlights in the Norfolk summer calendar. On August 11 and 12 an incredible array of internationally acclaimed bands, tribute acts and up-and-coming musicians will be performing. 1990’s superstars Roachford are headlining and I’m also looking forward to seeing exceptional Americana duo Ben Smith and Jimmy Brewer, who I recently enjoyed at Ramblin’ Roots festival. There is also a wealth of local talent including indie band Mammal Not Fish from Norwich, the contemporary acoustic folk of Longshore Drift and Peter Turrell a Norwich-based classical guitarist.
For more information and full line-up visit http://www.reephamfestival.co.
Norfolk and Norwich Festival
The Norfolk and Norwich Festival is widely known for bringing world class music, performance and literary events to the county and this year was no exception. I was lucky to witness some truly outstanding performances from world class musicians.
David McAlmont presents Billie Holiday at Carnegie Hall
I remember hearing David McAlmont’s incredible voice on “Yes” - the anthemic collaboration with Suede’s Bernard Butler in 1995 - and it was a real treat to finally hear those unforgettable vocals live at Norwich Playhouse.
Inspired by one of Billie Holiday’s legendary 1956 concerts at New York’s iconic Carnegie Hall, McAlmont brought to life songs from the set list backed by highly accomplished musicians: MD/pianist Alex Webb, Sue Richardson (trumpet) Katy Jungmann (tenor, clarinet), Flo Moore (bass) and Sophie Alloway (drums). However, it was McAlmont’s stunning vocals that was the star instrument here. With an astonishing vocal range and faultless delivery, he effortlessly proved himself an superlative interpreter - capturing Holiday’s tone, phrasing and raw emotion - whilst still being uniquely himself. With a natural stage manner and charisma, he moved freely across the stage and drew from a wide palette of vocal colours, showcasing the distinct style of Lady Day.
The night featured a lovely mix of uptempo numbers - “What A Little Moonlight Can Do”, “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone” - and tender ballads such as “My Man”. The moving “Don’t Explain” and “Lady Sings The Blues” also revealed Holiday’s impressive gift as a lyricist.
I particularly enjoyed how the evening - just like at the original concerts - was interspersed with excerpts from Holiday’s 1956 autobiography, “Lady Sings the Blues” where she talked openly about her difficult life. McAlmont recalled many insightful and moving moments documented in the book and it was clear that he feels huge admiration, and also a special connection, with Billie; some events related to his own childhood (having an absent father).
A real highlight of the evening was during the encore with an emotive version of “God Bless the Child” a song written by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog. Jr in 1939 with McAlmont accompanied only by pianist Alex Webb on the piano. A superior homage ensuring Holidays’ already lasting influence and shining light in music will endure.
Mary Chapin Carpenter - Theatre Royal, Norwich
At the Theatre Royal, five-time Grammy-award winner singer songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter made a welcome first appearance at the festival and it was a magical night of master storytelling and heartfelt songs.
Showing real appreciation for the warm reception she received, Mary Chapin took us on a moving journey of her stellar career, performing songs from her impressive back catalogue including new album “Sometimes Just The Sky” which was produced by one of my favourite producers, Ethan Johns (Ryan Adams, Kings of Leon, Laura Marling). The majority of the set focused on material from this latest release with Mary Chapin sharing the stories behind many of the songs and how they have been re-recorded as new interpretations. It was a treat to hear moving, introspective songs such as “What Does It Mean To Travel” “The Moon and St Christopher” and “This Shirt” which reveal her remarkable gift for telling a story with subtle, discerning lyrics. She clearly enjoyed reflecting on her career and shared many anecdotes. As a songwriter I love hearing how writers have been inspired and where titles and themes have come from and Mary Chapin talked of how watching Patti Smith giving advice to a group of young people provided the evocative title “Sometimes Just the Sky.”
The concert was not just thoughtful and gentle. Upbeat favourites “I Feel Lucky” “Passionate Kisses” and “I Take My Chances” were full of energy, showcasing the natural cohesion between the band and their obvious enjoyment of playing together.
The show ended with Mary Chapin playing acoustic guitar solo on moving final song “I have a Need for Solitude” while describing her idyllic home in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. The standing ovation that followed was richly deserved. The concert marked the end of her brief tour of the UK and hopefully it won’t be too long before she returns to these shores.
Opening the show was the award-winning singer-songwriter Emily Barker, this year’s AMA-UK Artist of the Year recipient. Emily blends country and English folk and her sweet, pure and powerful voice was complimented by multi-instrumentalist Lukas Drinkwater who provided subtle and exquisite enhancements to stunning soulful versions of songs from latest album “Sweet Kind of Blue.” “Sister Goodbye” and “Over my Shoulder” in particular sounded very moving with Emily on piano. Another highlight was the haunting “Nostalgia” the theme from the BBC series “Wallander”.
Ben Folds - Theatre Royal, Norwich
Only two nights later, the Theatre Royal provided another special opportunity to see an acclaimed multi-platinum selling songwriter. This time it was Ben Folds, who performed an extraordinary two-hour solo show. Throughout his career, Folds has created a huge body of genre-bending music that has included pop albums as the front man for the melodic piano-based Ben Folds Five, multiple solo albums, as well as collaborations with artists from Sara Bareilles and Regina Spektor, to Weird Al and William Shatner.
A high-energy performance was promised and Folds certainly delivered. With just a Steinway on stage, he played some of his best-loved songs, more recent material and shared memorable and humorous episodes in his career. Highlights for me included “Landed”, “Brick”, “So There” - a moving break-up song - and the heartfelt “The Luckiest”. “Still Fighting It” and “Gracie” provided sweet moments - lovely songs written for his son and daughter respectively. With witty lyrics, brilliant, quirky storytelling and incredible piano playing, the night flew by. In the middle of “Steven’s Last Night in Town” a drum kit was assembled on stage and Folds enthralled us with an amazing drum solo which certainly maintained the energy of the show.
As a vocal coach I particularly loved how Folds got the audience involved, engaging us in singing four part harmonies - which sounded really effective. Again, this was a rare evening witnessing a world class musician and Folds was also rewarded with a rapturous reception. When a member of the audience informs Folds that it was 1997 when he last performed in Norwich, he estimated he will be back in another 21 years - hopefully it will be much sooner.
Amanda Palmer - OPEN, Norwich
The next night at OPEN Norwich I saw another charismatic performer and prolific songwriter, Amanda Palmer, who has a connection with Ben Folds. He produced and performed on her first solo album, 2008’s “Who Killed Amanda Palmer”. One half of cult punk-cabaret duo The Dresden Dolls and an alt-rock icon, Palmer is known for her honest songwriting and huge creative output. Her recent artistic work has diversely leapt from collaborations and film clips to new music, blogs and multi-media art.
Treating us to another epic show, Palmer began the night with a ukulele cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” - the ultimate anthem about being different - whilst wandering through the crowd. This drew us straight into what was truly an inclusive and electrifying experience. From the powerful “Astronaut”, which features on the afore-mentioned debut album, we were on a unique and captivating journey where Palmer combined hard-hitting new material with requests for fan favourites from the revering audience. Also announcing that there will be some upcoming Dresden Dolls shows in London - already sold out on pre-sales - was met with major excitement.
A raw, engaging and passionate stage persona, Palmer spoke honestly of a tough few years’ and her new material is as powerful as ever; meditations on life, death, abortion and motherhood. The epic “A Mother’s Confession” - composed during an afternoon writing session - speaks of a new mum’s flaws and has a hypnotic refrain “at least the baby didn’t die.” There was also plenty of cabaret and dark humour such as The Dresden Doll’s “Coin-Operated Boy”.
In her 2014 memoir “The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help” Palmer wrote passionately about having the power to help each other and ask for things. She also examined the new relationship between artist and fan. Still walking her own unique artistic path, Norwich was certainly grateful to witness such an inspirational artist.