Corn On The Cob! - The Corn Exchange Hertford feat Steve Young, Emily Faye, Mairead Donnelly, Cara B
A new Americana night is always something to be welcomed, and this night promoted by Steve Young is certainly a bold venture. The venue, The Corn Exchange, once accessed via a dark staircase turns out to be a large venue filled with comfy sofas but with plenty of room to fit a large crowd standing. There is a wide stage and a long bar all of the things required for a good evening, and some alarmingly flashing fairy lights! Musically as well, the vision is ambitious, maybe over ambitious in that the evening aims to pack in a "Songwriters Circle" session, a set from a solo artist and two full band sets before we are dispatched on our way at 23:00. As if all of that was not enough there were also complimentary "Corn On The Cobs" and coffee vouchers it was the evening that kept on giving!
With so much to squeeze in, the "Songwriters Circle" session was set to 3 songs each, joining our host Steve Young was London based, though originally from Northern Ireland Mairead Donnelly and rising star Emily Faye.
Round 1 saw Emily open proceedings with "Giving In" joined on acoustic guitar by the towering presence of Elliot Joseph, notable for his size and a quite striking piece of headgear! It's a promising start to the evening. It is to be a busy night for Elliot as he is also on guitar duties for Mairead, who opens with the equally impressive "Searching for Ghosts", there's an understandably obvious Irish almost folky influence coming through. Steve Young has had a lot on his plate all evening, as promoter, welcoming host and MC and has looked a little distracted but for the three minutes performing he can finally put that to the back of his mind and do what he does best and ends Round 1 with "Growing Up" a reflection on how your view of the world changes around you as you become older.
It is back to Emily Faye to open Round 2 and "Masterpiece" dealing with an area rarely touched upon by other artists, and that is about folk who have lived a long time together. It is written with her grandparents in mind, and the tune has phrasing that is reminiscent of the way that sometimes Ben Earle puts songs together which is no bad influence to have. Mairead has a distinctly more poppy sound with the excellent "Lately" while Steve Young closes the second round with a lovely story about not appearing on the Clare Balding show, that had led to the creation of "Trembling Heart" from his "Great North Road" EP, only to then subsequently get an offer off the back of the song to appear on the very same show.
It seemed that everyone was just getting into the swing of things when the final round came around. Emily Faye closed her set with her new single "Open Road" and the performance did seem to give the feel of driving along which was apt as the subject was based around her parents joy in traveling in a camper van! The best song of the night in this section in a very competitive field probably fell to Mairead Donnellys "Looking Glass" which made an immediate impression even on first hearing. This part of the evening closed with Steve Young's "Back To Mine", aware of the potential laddish connotations, it was introduced as "different kind of Back to mine" and came with a trademark guitar flourish that caused Eliot to let out a little "Yeah" as it completed.
As Cara Beard took to the stage the venue was filling up nicely, perhaps better known one half of Darline, a band full of promise since we first saw them supporting The Shires but as yet frustratingly slow in delivering finished product. Looking quite stunning in her leather trousers, and with just a guitar and stomp box for company she put in a bright and breezy six song set that really set uo the rest of the evening. Starting with the uptempo pop of "Blue Eyes" through to the excellent "Burned" In fact the longer her set went on the more frustrating the lack of output became, "I Want More" about that feeling at the start of a relationship, and "Hey Stranger" with it's catchy "Phone me text me" lines all deserve to be heard by a wider audience. There was a cover in the shape of Shania's "That Don't Impress Me Much" but the overriding impression was of a caged talent needing to be released.
Holloway Road took to the stage and immediately it was apparent that this was going to be a different show to normal as their regular guitarist was nowhere to be seen, leaving Rob Gulston on lead guitar duties. The opening few songs were also the the only blot on the soundmans night with Jack's vocals nearly inaudible for the opening few songs. So while "A Little Harder" introduced some volume into the evening, and "Where We Are Tonight" showcased some excellent power drumming the overall effect was a slightly odd sound.
Things gradually returned to normality and the first of a selection of new songs "Something Like This" was full of power chords while also capturing a little of the Old Dominion / Blake Shelton american sound. Their single from earlier in the year "If She Falls" has now had over 100,000 Spotify plays which I expect equates to depressingly little income but it is still a great achievement and tonights version is great. There then came 2 new songs, the first "Get There?" came with a singalong chorus but was dangerously close to cod English white reggae, however it was followed by "Drive", quite possibly their strongest song in a while and given that they've been pumping out high quality singles all year that is some praise. Speaking of quality singles the live version of "Under Cover" had a lot much punch and even saw Jack performing a little shuffle dance.
To close the set a thumping "We Said So", sadly not complete with a Busted jump style finale but come what may Hertford had probably not seen anything like them before!
As Dexeter took to the stage, our deepest fear was that they would turn into a Dexeter tribute band living off past glories so it is an absolute joy to report that from the very first note it was immediately apparent that this was not to be the case, in fact the latest regeneration has seen them come out fighting, punchier, rockier and funkier than ever, reinventing old songs, reinterpreting covers and most crucially unveiling new material.
"Weight Of The World" is promoted to opener and the new sound fills the room, with keyboards noticeably prominent, they seem rockier than i've seen them for a while and it is a great to hear Dee's huge vocals swirling around the room. Looking confident, sounding great she has really taken to her role of being the front person. With little hanging around, it was straight into the criminally overlooked "Nashville You and Me" co-written with Ben Earle. The excellent "Try Try Try" from their last EP is now revamped sounding faster and funkier also incorporating a touch of "Run To You".
There is a cover of Tom Petty's "Free Falling" ( my third Tom Petty tribute this week) but it is no straight cover, it's been reinvented, slowed down with a new melody line and with Dee really selling the words for all their worth, it is the most radical tribute I've seen since his death. The reinterpretations continue "Slow It Down" has had a makeover but there is no need for alterations for "Meet Me There", which retains it power to get an audience singing along.
Then comes the moment that assures me that Dexeter are an ongoing force going forward, a new song, a piano intro leading to a power ballad "Head Above Water" complete with a great guitar solo. The main set closed with the last single "I Hope It Hurts" nearly rocking the roof off in a quite splendid performance. There is time to squeeze one last song in a spectacular "Not Give Up Tonight". If this was a statement of intent then it succeeded completely - Dexeter are back and quite possibly better than they have been in a long time - can't wait to see them again at Midwinterfest!
The people of Hertford did eventually come out in respectable numbers - let's hope they spread the word of what they saw to enable this to become a regular part of the UK Americana circuit.