Case Hardin, Daisy Chapman and The Lullabirds at ACE Space, Newbury on Friday, September 20
PROMOTER Richard Markham reckoned that Friday’s ACE Space gig line-up “didn’t look like it should work on paper”, but in fact, the three bands blended together beautifully, each telling moving and heartbreaking stories through song, and breaking free of the traditional rock band line-up with the sound of strings and other instruments.
The evening was opened by The Lullabirds, a localish trio featuring Kate Sharples on flugel horn, Rebecca Wilson on Double Bass, and the beautiful contralto vocals and guitar of Celia Barrett, creating a sparse yet mesmerising sound, creating a showcase for Barrett’s lyrics of love and death - two themes which made regular appearances throughout the rest of the evening.
Co-headliner Daisy Chapman first played at Ace Space two years ago, as a solo performer, although with her keyboard and loop machine to create layers of vocals, she can fill a room with sound without the need for other musicians. However, her band - cello, violin and drums - added a wonderful depth and fullness to her sound, bringing alive her tales of crashing planes, sinking boats, 18th century gin-soddenness, sin and death.
Chapman’s version of the Titanic tragedy, Mrs Hart’s Premonition, was heart-rending, ending with a cipher of Nearer My God To Me, played by the ship’s band as it sank. Even more stunning was A Sinner Song, breathtakingly beautiful in the simplicity of its tune and lyrics, and yet lush with layers of vocals, piano and strings.
Proving that she isn’t all about misery (even her jollier tunes, such as Madame Jeneva have darker undertones in their lyrics), Chapman perked up her set with a couple of unexpected covers, rounding off with an only once-previously performed version of Soul II Soul’s Back To Life; a song which should be the staple of far more bands with a string section, owing to its funky violin riff. Chapman may love the winter, as she sings on Shameless Winter, but there’s a touch of fun in her performance that keeps her darkest-themed songs beautiful rather than bleak.
Case Hardin are always a guaranteed draw at ACE Space, and while they were co-headlining with Daisy Chapman, it was only right that they would round off the evening with their hefty dose of Americana. Pete Gow’s ever-shifting band has lost mandolin and banjo player Adam Kotz to his acting career, but gained violinist Hanna Piranha, keeping Case Hardin’s sound, as showcased on their recently-released third album PM, rich and interesting.
Despite the downbeat nature of many of Gow’s storytelling lyrics (“Daisy’s album is called Shameless Winter, and ours is called PM - what did you expect?” he quipped), the band were in upbeat mood, bringing a sweaty rockiness to proceedings which perked up the saddest of tales a treat.
For the last few songs, joined by the errant Kotz on banjo for a welcome reunion, the band tumbled off the stage and into the audience, setting out their stall between the tables for an acoustic encore of Champeen, Gow’s tale of a bare knuckle fighter facing death or glory.
As with Chapman, Gow’s lyrics are often dark and his tunes moving, but the rock & roll feel of Friday’s performance added a shot of adrenaline to the mood which didn’t detract from the thought-provoking content of the songs, and signed off a tune-laden evening with an unexpectedly upbeat flourish.
- First published in the Newbury Weekly News on September 26, 2013