The Great Plain, Crystal & Aaron, Gemma plus Lois Barrett

I had seen The Great Plain on the bill with Island Three at the Bar Academy in Birmingham last year, so when I saw they were playing at The Walnut Tree Inn in Blisworth, about 10 miles from where I work, it was an opportunity too good to miss, and so I went along last Thursday.  The Walnut Tree Inn is a splendid venue, very roomy, loads of free parking space, bar food on offer and only £2.50 to get in.
This is an acoustic night which happens on the fourth Thursday of every month, organised by Lois Barrett, and she was first up.  She seemed incredibly nervous, but for no reason because she has an obvious talent with the guitar and a lovely, powerful voice.  She began with her own upbeat version of House Of The Rising Sun, before moving on to Urge For Going by Joni Mitchell, and her comment at the end that “singing one of her songs really scares me because she’s too good” belies what an excellent performance she put in on that track.  Next up was one of her own songs, Mackeral Sky, written while looking at clouds in the sky, apparently there being a type of cloud named a mackeral cloud.  The song itself is slow and tender, chilled out with some very precise playing, some quite hauntingly beautiful vocals, and can be heard on her MySpace page.  One Of Those Lovers was written for someone else who liked it, even if she thinks some of it is a little bit silly, and is a track which builds before dipping into the finale.  The final song was Sleep In The Snow, written on a canal boat whle in a glorious mess, and it is another wonderful little story.  Lois really is a very fine and charming singer/songwriter who clearly knows her way around a guitar.
It was only when I got home and was looking through the sleeve notes to The Great Plain cd that I saw some vocals on there were provided by Gemma Quarterman.  Well, tonight the roles were reversed and they were providing backing to her vocal talent.  And she really is a talent, showcasing all her own numbers in this set.  First up is Hush, with a certain trill to her voice, something of a French feel for me, tons of passion, emotion, and a seeming ease in hitting all the high notes – you don’t want this song to end.  She plays guitar through Do You, but you have to wonder if it is necessary because what I noticed is that she can build a song with her voice alone – even if it did come to a slightly premature end when she got it wrong and started laughing.  Next up was a new one, so she was “not sure how it goes”.  She later told me to call it Gold, so it may end up with a completely different title.  It was a lovely balled aith a rock sound to it and a voice to match.  And the versatility to her voice is displayed in Tangerine Sun (truly a “swelling, scorcher of a song”) where it occasionally soft, occasionally soaring.  I had heard Crosses during the soundcheck and was looking forward to hearing it again.  It has a slow start before moving into a very upbeat feel, reminding me of the Stereophonics at times, and Gemma really lets her voice flow through this one.  A wonderful vocal talent with some great songs behind her, and very pleasant to chat with afterwards, even if I was interrupting her dinner.
Crystal & Aaron managed to make me enjoy songs I would not normally bother with, so there must be something to them – lovely vocals and a fine backing on the guitar would be that thing then.  I do have a Snow Patrol album, even if I never listen to it any more.  It does not include Chasing Cars but as they were playing it I was thinking this sounds like Snow Patrol, but better, and sure enough they had mixed it up a bit.  Crystal was clearly nervous up there (again, with no need to be) and this was very apparent in Dido’s White Flag, there being an almost plaintive sound to her voice.  January is written by Crystal and is on there MySpace profile, a gentle number and tonight she sang it with a haunting voice and it sounded wonderful.  They closed with Kiss Me and the higher tempo seemed to help Crystal to relax, but the best was still to come, in my opinion.  At the end of the set there was a strong cry from many present for Crystal to perform a cappella, and in singing The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face she really used her voice to its full effect, which she had not done while the guitar was there to support her – but when she brings this vocal performance to the excellent guitar work from Aaron it really will be something special.
The Great Plain were playing an acoustic set tonight, so it was just Matthew and Steven, but they had remembered to bring the cds !  So I bought one.  They are both very accomplished guitarists and vocalists, with soe great songs, and they appear totally relaxed up there.  First up was Lily Drop, very mellow, easy flowing, light and breezy with strong vocals, and it clearly went down well with the audience.  Believe In A Good Idea is upbeat and quirky and an excellent way to continue the set, and with Streets Of My City we had them stopping part way through to try it a couple of different ways to work out which was the right one – and they carry it off, no problem.  At The Moment Everything Is Fine includes some harmonica and has a rocky feel to it, Led Zep bluesy.  Their vocals worked really well together on a cover of REM’s Losing My Religion, and it is clear in Whats Next? that their playing is really tight and together.  Back Again is an upbeat bouncy number with a complex structure and leads into Funny? Little Black Dress, which starts as a mournful, reflective ballad with a country feel at times before building into a more powerful solid sound, and again Matthew and Steven work so well together.  Tomb To The Chambers is normally more heavy and funky in their electric set, and in an acoustic setting you get almost frantic moments, some of the guitar sounds being reminiscent of Yes for me, and the line “do you feel alive” is appropriate because the song itself is rousing.  French Lovely Day was written when they were 15 but it still sounds fresh and is a lively, bouncy number.  They were nearing the end of their set and discussing what to play next when the audience requested Lily Drop again, so it had definitely gone down well the first time.  They then proceeded to make a complete hash of the beginning…twice…causing Gemma to call out that they were “supposed to play it better second time”, and Matthew and Steven were again together in replying “shut up Gemma”, before finally nailing the song and allowing us all to enjoy that very catchy chorus again.  I missed the name of the final track, another light, breezy number with some excellent vocal harmonies.  The audience called out for more, but they could not remember how the encore song should go, so the chance was passed up.  A great, relaxed set, and very enjoyable.
And before we could go there was an impromptu set from one of the audience members, Alan – just a few tracks on the guitar, starting with something nice and bluesy and taking it from there.  Finishing with John Lee Hooker’s I Got My Eyes On You.  Nice.  And I will definitely be going back on the fourth Thursday of the month for more.

This entry was posted in Gig reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.