Those of you who are parents will know exactly what it is like, sitting on ridiculously small chairs in the school hall with the stale smell of school dinners still lingering, waiting for the Christmas Concert having spent weeks rehearsing your child’s two short lines time and time again! You sit in expectant pride but with that fearful niggling that yours will be the child who clams up, forgets the lines half way through, or worst still, the one who falls over and takes half a row of their class mates with them!
I am feeling like that tonight. I’m back at Shepherd’s Bush Empire for the second night in a row and it is not my children who are performing. Yet I sit here just like that nervous and worried parent. Two out of the three acts tonight I have seen playing at earlier stages in their career, and here they are tonight live on stage at Shepherd’s Bush Empire…
I first saw Dan Owen support Wille and the Bandits in the upper room of a pub in Southwark with a handful people in the audience. His great blues voice and his wild legs instantly struck me as he stomped his way through the upbeat songs. I saw him again headlining a gig at the Lexington (blogged in this fiftyfifty series: Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad) and loved every minute of his set. Tonight he is opening for Rae Morris who I first heard play as a teenager at an Open Mic night in the back room of a Lancashire pub.
As his wild leg stomps...
Dan Owen starts conservatively with his feet firmly planted on the stage! Don’t get me wrong, he writes a great song and he sounds great but he seems to be holding back. Maybe it is conscious or maybe it is unconscious but I just want him to let go and show everyone his true character. Having said that he is getting a great reception and the crowd are fully on his side. He has just produced an EP which he hands out to the crowd at the front, loving the fact that he finally has a CD and loving the fact that the crowd genuinely seem to want to be the first to own a copy, he seems to relax further into the gig. As he finishes his short set with Little Red Rooster this young blues man captivates the crowd as his wild leg stomps the stomp box. The crowd roar with appreciation and as a proud parent I believe that it will not be long before he is headlining at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire himself!
Five or six years ago I was introducing Rae Morris as one of the singers at an Open Mic night I occasionally MC’d. Garstang Unplugged at the Kenlis Arms, complete with its signature cat-pee aroma (see fiftyfifty blog: Keep My Seat Warm - I'm On My Way!), is a fantastic night on the last Wednesday of each month. It is a place where great musicians congregate, a place where everyone is welcomed and listened to and a place that has showcased some great young talent. At any Open Mic night there is always an over-abundance of guitars, yet it wasn’t that Rae sat behind a keyboard that set her apart. It wasn’t even that hair, her big wild hair. No, it was purely and simply her song writing and performance.
It feels over produced...
It has been wonderful to see her gain recognition and acclamation, although one of the more surreal experiences on moving down to the capital was seeing all the portrait posters for her debut album adorning tube stations!
So, here I am with a ticket for her first headline gig at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. I know I have no reason to, but I feel very proud and have to exercise immense self-control not to tell everyone around me that I have introduced her onto stage on more than one occasion! The pride is tinged with a little reservation however, as when I first listened to her album I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. It feels over produced, the songs are barely recognisable from the edgy dynamic songs I heard during her performances at Garstang, songs that owe as much to her personality as to her song-writing. Having said that each time I have listened to the album it has grown on me.
Her performance grows on me tonight too and by the time she plays ‘Under the Shadows’ as her penultimate song I am thoroughly enjoying the show along with everyone else in the auditorium. With a couple more albums her live set will become stronger, and I also believe that as she matures into the music business she will stamp more of her personality onto her songs and albums and they will be much the better for it. Just as Dan Owen relaxed into his set and showed us his true personality which the crowd loved, so if Rae allows her personality to come to the fore (and if the producers of her next album allow her personality to shine through the songs) we will love her even more.
Rae’s piano playing was always such a feature of her sets at Garstang but tonight she is at her best when she moves from behind the keyboard with mic in hand and we see her front her band. It’s not that I want her to stop playing but she seems to find it easier to communicate with the audience (and the audience with her) when she is not behind the barrier that is her keyboard and the gig is lifted at these points.
Like ordering a Veggie Delite sandwich at Subway...
I left as any proud parent leaves the Nativity play when their offspring has repeated all their lines and not been the one who caused the laughter or (worse still) was the focus of the pity! I left too, knowing that there is far more to come from both Dan and Rae. They are young artists and I hope and pray that the music business doesn’t just chew them up and spit them out, but that they are allowed to fulfil their potential and embed their personalities into their music.
I also left as the proud dad who had seen his kids outshine the rest of their classmates (admit it parents we feel that pride!). Second on the bill - the filling in the sandwich - tonight was Roo Panes. Mediocre. It was like ordering a Veggie Delite sandwich at Subway – you get a great choice of tasty bread but the fact remains that the filling isn’t a delight at all, it’s just a mediocre salad!
Gig: 27 of 50
Date of Gig: Thurs. 8th October 2015
Shepherd's Bush Empire
Running total of artists seen 57