The Cellar Bar in Oxford is down a blink and you'll miss it narrow alley way ( I blinked, I missed it! ) off a main street in a pedestrian area of the town. Naturally with it being a "Cellar Bar" the stairs lead down into a low ceiling venue, which later will double up as a club night. the "In The Round" part of the show is an element of the Katy Hurt and friends tour which has been winding its way around the UK, giving opportunities to established and lesser known names to appear in an "In The Round" environment as essentially the support act. One cannot underestimate the opportunity and exposure that this has provided to a lot of artists who would not normally get the chance to sit alongside the likes of Sonia Leigh or tonight as well Shelly Fairchild
Tonight's invitees are an even split between the UK and the US, with the UK being represented by Elles Bailey sporting a "Choose Life" t-shirt and the only performer behind a keyboard, Journey Home scaled down to just AJ while the US are represented by the ever wonderful Sonia Leigh, and Shelly Fairchild, a new name to us but she has been releasing records since 2005.
AJ from Journey Home making his debut as a solo performer kicked off with a track from Journey Homes debut EP "Ain't Quite a Truck". He'll later confess to being ill at ease without his compadres but he makes a good job of it. Next time round it will be a new song "This Town" which seems to be a classic country sounding song. For the final round it will be back to the Journey Home EP for "Big City Lights" which comes with a little back story.
Sonia Leigh as ever takes to the stage with seemingly not a clue of what it is she should play. Eventually Katy calls out from the back and joins in on stage as they play "Red". For the second song she plays "Sky Submarine" on an electric guitar instead of an acoustic one of the songs from her new album due out in January. The final song was about driving home "Alabama Bound?"
Shelly Fairchild got things rocking with (All I Need Is A ) "Damn Good Lover" which saw Elles Bailey join in on backing vocals and by the end everyone was contributing in some part.For her second round performance, there is the thought provoking "House On Fire" for which she provides a great vocal performance. Her final song is one of the stand out songs of the whole evening "Whiskey and a Gun" as yet unrecorded was quite exceptional, and absolutely classic country material ending with the death penalty.
Elles Bailey builds on the reputation that she built back at Buckle & Boots 2017, she opens with a song about Janis Joplin "Girl Who Owned The Blues", it's slow and soulful but totally absorbing from someone also making their debut in this format. For round two she sings "What If I?" and manages to put in a great performance despite having to perform against huge amounts of echo. Her final song is as yet untitled but comes with a hell of a true story of a dying man calling to say cheerio to people and comes complete with lines like "There's a light in the distance and it's calling me home". Definitely a song to check out one it is released,
With the stage reset, it is time for Katy Hurt and the Healers, and I think it very much depends on when you boarded the Katy Hurt express as to how much you like songs like "Sunkissed " and "Revved Up". I've no objections to Katy rocking out ZZ top style, i'm just not completely convinced it makes best use of her voice having to sing over such a loud backing, a bit like using a Formula 1 car to go and get the papers with however I stood next to someone who had not seen Katy before and they thought is was superb.
Despite my reservations about the opening, things were soon to get back on course for me with her latest single "Cheap", it's a kitch bit of rock 'n' roll, with Katy able to do a bit of acting to sell the song but hugely enjoyable. The blues of "Fire", with the band a little more suppressed allows Katy's vocals to be placed at the forefront of the mix and the overall balance is much the better for it.
"Drink" is another song that really shows how far her stage craft has developed and she really went on to give an impressive performance. There's no denying the exceptional full on vocals of "The Way Home" and then the song that I think represents the direction Katy should probably be heading in, the yet to be recorded "Before The Ice Melts" which had the feel of a heavier "Rumours" era Fleetwood Mac and was immediately attention grabbing.
The evening then closed with a Sonia Leigh / Katy Hurt & the Healers joint effort with Sonia giving us previews of songs to appear on her new album "Mad Hatter". There is nothing quite like seeing Sonia in full flow and "Waste The Day", the opening track of the new album sounded great as did "Dead Man's Sunrise" which speeds up dramatically towards the end of the song for a storming finish.
A version of "Alabama" is abandoned and replaced instead by another song from the new album "Jack Is Back" and it is followed by the new single "Walking In The Moonlight". Things slow down for the blues of "Shelter" and with the queues impatiently forming upstairs for club night the evening closes for us with "Bar".
The whole enterprise of showcasing so much talent in one tour is well deserving of praise.