• Words Chris Farlie Photography Fran Farlie

Songwriters Round: Jeff Cohen ,Ben Earle, Kerri Watt & Nikhil D'Souza - Bush Hall


The latest Songwriters Round at Shepherds Bush brought together a truly global cast, hosted by Jeff Cohen from Nashville, with Nikhil D’Souza from India (now relocated to London), Kerri Watt (originally from Scotland) with Hertfordshire’s favourite son Ben Earle making the quartet. There was scgheduled to be a fifth member of the team however illness stopped Crissie Rhodes joining her partner in crime which left the door open for some surprise guest appearances later.

Jeff proved to be all that we like in a Round host, the ability to shamelessly name drop, a great number of anecdotes to reel off and most of all a batch of high quality songs to his name. His first song “Crazy For This Girl”, which made it to the TV show Dawson’s Creek and The Princess Diaries, came with a great anecdote how just one word nearly threatened the whole song being made. Jeff will be the first to acknowledge that he’s a writer rather than a performer but he more than held his own.

The last time we spied Kerri Watt she was opening for Ward Thomas at the Islington Assembly Halls, her path since then has seen her head in a more pop direction so it was nice to hear some of her songs stripped back. She had a plan to play different songs from the last five years that she has been a writer and opened with a soulful blues ballad on piano called “Sorrow”. Having seen Nikhil play at C2C with Jeff, it was a delight to reacquaint ourselves whose physical appearance and demeanour seem at odds with his singing voice. His normal singing voice has a rich vulnerable tone to it, at ease singing both exceptionally high and low as in his opener “Lost Highway”, Nikhil brings to his performance a sense of spirituality that is quite absorbing as you watch him play. Ben chose to close out Round 1 with “State Lines”, beautifully sparse back to how it originally began.

Round 2 started with Jeff doing the song that he co-wrote with Crissie, “Daddy’s Little Girl”, such is the quality of the song that it didn’t matter that a male was singing it, in fact in many ways it gave it a new dimension, as Ben was to observe at the end Jeff also gave made up chords that Ben wasn’t familiar with but I think most of us were just too wrapped up in the song to notice. Kerri moved to guitar and on a year for the jaunty “Part Time Lover”, with Ben quietly joining in on guitar. Nikhil’s voice once again perfectly suited his heartfelt ballad “Still In Love With You”, the word “you” rising up and down on each chorus. Ben gave us another glimpse of the song he has written with band member Charles as well as Dan Gordon from Ward Thomas, “Up All Night” had the ability to get the audience joining in straight away, it also gave Ben the chance to impersonate a guitar solo.

Round 3 saw Jeff offer us the choice of a song by Band Perry, Sugarland or Big & Rich, in the end the audience went with Sugarlands’ “Love or Money” duly joining in on the chorus. Kerri was by now up to 2015 and returned to the piano for the ballad “Long Way Home”, this came with a dark but funny tale of how it came to be written in Morocco, with its powerful chorus it was quite a performance. Nikhil continued to impress with “Beautiful Mind, which mixed in almost Bollywood vocal delivery, and saw his guitar playing become sitar like.

Ben used his go to introduce someone he had recently written a song with, BCMA “Female vocalist of the year” Laura Oakes. Our love for Laura’s acoustic EP is second to none and seeing her in this environment was a delight as it let the audience hear just how wonderful she can be. Before they started Ben joked that it “seemed like cheating” performing with someone else and “Light Me Up” did become something special, so special that he asked for the song back!

Jeff then brought out his own special guest in the shape of Jamie Hartman, who told us some stories of life in the music business, and then played a couple of his tunes “Human” as in Rag’n Bone Man’s hit. He also switched to piano for “All Time Love”, a hit for Will Young.

Jeff was willing to give up his slot but was cajoled into having another go and with “In Her Eyes” managed to both namedrop and tell the most moving story of the night, before then going on to perform a very touching version of the song. Kerri was up to 2016 with a song for her Mum, “She Said” while Nikhil performed “Desert Island” for the first time and manged to keep that ethereal vibe going. Ben returned to a song that he had previewed at the last Shepherds Bush Hall Round, “Married To Me” which he is adamant is not a Shires song, but it is too good to leave on the shelf so we await to see in what format it is eventually released in, it was possibly my favourite song of the night.

As ever with these events the final round come around far too quickly. Jeff ended with “Hey Love” a song that has yet to be recorded though has nearly been by both The Spin Doctors and The Band Perry among others. Keen listeners would also have heard a little nod to Paul Simon with a few lines from “You Can Call Me Al” thrown in for good measure. Kerri brought us to 2017 with her latest single “Old School Love”, Nikhil offered up “Simple Kind Of Love” while Ben gave the audience a final vocal and physical work out to “1000 Hallelujahs” while also letting us in on a secret about stage fright which for a man who has played at Wembley Stadium supporting ELO was something of a surprise.

Everyone had a thoroughly great time and we all agreed with Jeff that he would reconvene another round the next time he was in town.

Nikhil D’Souza has an upcoming show on London at The Islington 7th September. Beautiful Mind & Still In Love (acoustic) are available for download & streaming.

Kerri Watt latest single Old School Love is available now from all retailers.

Jeff Cohen will no doubt be returning to pen tomorrow’s hits today

Ben Earle will be continuing to play with his partner in their up and coming band The Shires – they could do well!

#BenEarle #JeffCohen #KerriWatt #NikhilDSouza #BushHall #LauraOakes #JamieHartman

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