• Words John Berresford PIctures Colin Jones

ICMP Songwriters Circle at Rosslyn Hill Chapel Hampstead with Ben Earle, Kaity Rae, Megan O'Neil


It’s always good to experience a new venue and discovering new music and new artists in an intimate setting is also a great way to spend a Monday evening! Rosslyn Hill Chapel, in Hampstead (not far from the Heath) is a neo-gothic parish church and as such could be quite an imposing setting for what is, essentially a school performance! With the performers in question being a mix of established artists, former alumni, teachers and current students, we were guaranteed a range of music to appreciate. Seated in the centre of a circle, as the event suggests, the audience can spend the evening staring at the back of the singers’ head, so it can pay to work out who is going to sit where as we spent the night directly behind Ben Earle, of The Shires fame, and who we would hear more from later!

Hannah Rose Platt, former student turned teacher and singer/songwriter opened the proceedings and acted as compere through the night. Her first song was ultimately an exercise in story-telling in song form. Written based on a children's ghost story and with a chorus that changes every time too this song proves how much information it is possible to cram into a 4-minute song. Unfortunately, a few sound issues hampered the performance, but this could just have been a lesson to the students to keep singing and playing and let the technicians sort out their problems! Luckily the technical gremlins didn’t spoil the song and Hannah was able to show off her high vocal range.

Conor Riley was up next. He’s a second year student and was performing in his second Songwriters circle, although under a different name, which confused not only the audience but the other artists as well! Choosing to perform only new songs tonight Connor opened with “Nothing But Liquor” which had a great sound and was expressive of his style. Third in the round and the only singer to perform on a keyboard was Megan O'Neill. Starting with a never recorded song, “Half Of Myself”. This is a song I’ve heard Megan sing before and I dearly hope she finds a way to lay a recording down soon. I’m particularly fond of the misheard lyric “Like an old country station without any loos” with many other musical references dotted through the song such as “Beale St, Memphis without any blues”. This is a song that left me wanting more.

It’s been a while seen I last saw Kaity Rae perform, although I’ve often seen her at other performers gigs. Kaity graduated from ICMP last year so was here to prove that there is life after university! Her first song she co-wrote with Jordan Shaw, who was in the audience tonight. “Somebody Else's Problem” has a really up-tempo beat and lots of lyrics! This is a really cleverly written song and is very catchy and remains a TeamW21 contender for song of the year befroe even being recorded. Izzie Naylor was next and is a 1st year student. She told us that she writes a lot in metaphor to hide the true meaning behind the song. Her first song “Winter” had quite a folky feel to it and was in stark contrast to the pop-iness of Kaity. This was clearly an emotive song “Out here in the cold” being a sample of the lyrics.

Last but not least in the round was the familiar face of Ben Earle, well it would have been familiar had I been on the other side of him! As it was I got to listen to Ben’s songs and stories from behind. Kicking off with a stripped back and acoustic version of The Shires ‘straight to Radio 2 A-List’ debut single Nashville Grey Skies. It was nice to hear this now familiar song taken right back to just Ben and a guitar.

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With one round under their belts everyone seemed a little more relaxed as Hannah kicked off the second round with “Sorry”. This song is her latest single and is aid of the charity Women's Aid. If you listen to the lyrics you may get an understanding of why. Connor was up next with a Cadillac 3 inspired song “Lock & Key”. This was a loud, brash drinking song and a guitar sound I can only describe as angry! Megan’s second song, on the other hand, recounts a very personal and emotive experience. “Walls” tells the story of what it’s like to find a burglar/intruder in your house and the impact that can have. This is a song that really allows Megan to show off her crystal clear vocals.

Kaity continued her collaboration theme with her second song “Entitled” written with Jess Sharman. This was another fast and difficult song with very entertaining lyrics! I particularly like the line “so overconfident you must be over compensating!” – imagine trying to fit that in whilst you’re writing lyrics! Izzie’s next song was inspired by Carrie Fisher! “Poison” was again a slower song with a range of haunting vocals (appropriate considering the church setting). Ben then proceeded to tell us about how, with the majority of The Shires first album Brave finished, he was sent away to a Swedish writing room for one more session. Having Googled lots of American items, without having been there, “State Lines” was born. This was a song that initially had to be pushed to be a single but has since become a staple part of their set. With Ben on guitar as opposed to piano it was an opportunity to hear a well-known song in a different format and it was obvious from the audience reaction that this was always a good choice to release!

After a short break we were back for the final round of songs. Hannah decided to play us a song from her first album. “1954” is about a lady in a nursing home and all that that entails. This was an opportunity for Conor to play along... and also Ben, which gave you the feeling of a true songwriters’ circle. For Conor’s final song he invited Leah to join him with backing vocals. This was a very personal song called “Waiting For You” and was about how his Dad disappeared at 13. He just walked out though Conor was pleased to say that he’s back now and all is fine, but this was clearly an emotional song! Megan’s final song “Without” was written with Jeff Cohen and Victoria Banks in the US. This song will be Megan’s new single and was a faster song than her previous two.

For Kaity’s final song she invited Jordan Shaw to join her and play keyboard. This was a song they wrote together in the space of 45 minutes... and hasn't changed since. “Does It Feel The Same?” is a quieter, slower song and made for a nice duet. Typically, of Kaity this song also has very clever lyrics that really make you think when you hear them. Izzie’s final song, “Seasons” turned out to be the first song she played in class this year, having written it during the break and was slightly more up-beat and gave us a tour through the seasons (emotions?!) With the final round over barring Ben it was time to get something new and indeed we were treated to the live debut of a brand new Shires song. “Blue Jean Dream” is a typically upbeat catchy song about how extreme Americans be; loud, enthusiastic and includes lots of (clichéd?) American references. Expect to hear Red, White & Blue, Miller Light, Boots etc. That said, it seemed pretty good on the first listen and I’m sure will become another Shires anthem for their upcoming tour. Luckily we still had time for a couple more songs and proof that sometimes simple lyrics ‘just work’ we had a current wedding song favourite rendition of “I Just Wanna Love You” before the final fun song to close of “1,000 Hallelujahs”. All in all a very fitting end to an evening spent in church!

#BenEarle #HannahRosePlatt #KaityRae #MeganONeill #ConorRiley #IzzieNaylor #ICMP #RosslynHIllChapel

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