Country In The Afternoon - Day 1: Tim Prottey-Jones, Jake Morell, Em/Elle & Kaity Rae & Joe Dolman
Country In The Afternoon pretty much does what is says in the title, with 8 quality acts playing across the weekend, throughout the afternoon at the Half Moon, Putney, all for a bargain price. In these hopefully covid free times the Half Moon have gone for the aggressive air conditioning solution, it did mean that although the sun was shining outside to provide quite a warm late summer afternoon, the temperature inside remained on the cooler side. With the artists looking out onto huge pictures of Kate Bush and Elvis Costello as they performed, all was set for a perfect afternoons entertainment.
The first act of the afternoon was the seemingly bizarrely named Em/Elle, who had been due to close out the Paddock Stage at Buckles & Boots 2021 on the Saturday night. Contracting covid sadly put that career highlight on hold for another year, while the mystery of the name was later explained to be a play on the opening letters of her name Emma Louise, Today was to be her debut appearance with a band featuring Joe Dolman on guitar who would have many parts to play as the day progressed.
With striking pink locks, a striking sense of attire and a Merseyside accent she delivered a short but memorable 25 minute set. A booming electronic keyboard bass sound, signaled the start of "Can't Afford". With the volume set possibly a shade too high this was to be a strange Americana / electronica mash up. Whether the strong sounding song was assisted by the the musical trickery is open to debate however with Em/Elle holding the microphone in one hand while expressively gesturing with the other, she certainly proved hard to take your eyes off.
The introduction to "Time Bomb" highlighted Em/Elle's anti bullying efforts in local schools. Once again distorted by being slightly too loud. however there was a poppy chorus attached to a dramatically moody verse.
Things got a little quieter for a Cam cover of "Forgetting You" with Em/Elle seemingly living every line. It was mainly just acoustic guitar and afforded a proper chance to hear her talents. Although the electronica sounds would return for "Crash", this time they were a little more muted and Em/Elle's vision for how she wants to sound became a little clearer, With a big power chorus, Em/Elle certainly showed that there was a proper singer could still thrive beneath all the trickery.
Strapping on a guitar for "Voicemail", her angry song, proved to be a slower tune with a funky back beat attached to a more standard Americana chorus that once again showed Em/Elle's really belting out the chorus with some aplomb,
The set was to close with "Collateral Damage" the one song released so far and surely the blueprint for how today was more supposed to sound. It opened to "Em/Elle" singing to a more electronica based than country sound and was by far the most successful of the 2 musical genres crashing together.
Em/Elle is undoubtedly going to ruffle a few feathers with this act, it is taking the genre into new territory and it will be interesting to see how many people follow her down this route. It also must be remembered that as a band this was very much a debut performance and with a few sound tweaks there is certainly something interesting going on and we look forward to hearing more from Em/Elle at a later date.
Who would have thought that Jake Morrell was such a rebel?, His first action on taking to the stage was to put his pint of liquid inspiration less than a yard away from the sign saying no drinks on stage! Having been unable to catch his set at Buckle & Boots, this provided an early opportunity to catch up with Jake, performing today for the first time as the Jake Morell Trio.
Always good company in whatever format he comes Jake opened with "Wire & Thorns", the electric guitar flourishes working a treat as did the impressive sound of all three voices singing together on the chorus.
The good mood continued with "Home" with it's in built crowd pleasing chant on the chorus. With so many books out about people miserable childhoods it a pleasure to hear a song about someone having a good childhood in "This House". Although the story is Jake's, the words should surely chime with a lot of people. Released during Lockdown, this afternoon's version sees the trio work to full effect and Jake's vocals were able to go from a gentle whisper to a full throated roar with great effect.More mellow happy times followed with "Half Your Heart" in an outstanding performance.
To up the tempo it was time for a cover of The Weeknd's "Blinding Lights" that was preceded by one of the poorest merch sales pitches ever! Fortunately that was soon forgotten with the gusto at which he attacked the cover. Always an amiable character at any show Jake's reaction to a mishap on "Sunkissed" was priceless, as was the crowd reaction on the completion of the song second time round - in fairness it was prefaced with the warning that it had not been played live!. With a prominent guitar riff this was simply feel good summer music. The set was to close out with a vibrant "Freewheeling" complete with the audience successfully providing a "Keep On Rolling" refrain before "Englishman" brought the house down on a great afternoon performance.
The news that Lisa Wright had been struck down with laryngitis was undoubtedly a disappointment, however who would've thought that her backing band would step up to provide the replacement and provide one of the "you had to be there" moments that make live music so compelling. Admittedly it did help that her backing band were singer songwriter Joe Dolman and writer/producer/multi instrumentalist Kaity Rae, making her first full set appearance in nearly 4 years and if that was the show supporting Sarah Darling then #TEAMw21 were in the audience reporting on that as well! This did leave the duo with only a few hours to prepare and so what emerged was very much a one off and although occasionally a little less polished than they perhaps may have liked it was still thoroughly entertaining.
So with Kaity perched behind a keyboard and with Joe on acoustic guitar, things kicked off with a duet "Run No More", with Joe taking the first verse and Kaity the second. With a hint of early Shires about it this was an impressive opening. For a short spell Lisa Wright's presence was in the room as her songbook was raided for a couple of tunes. Having said that, Kaity Rae did co write "Tennessee" however the song is so intrinsically linked with Lisa and her phrasing, that at times Kaity could not help but end up sounding like Lisa. The second Lisa song was, a take on the piano, duo version of "Everything Changes" that Lisa had released earlier in the year with Joe. Once again Kaity could not help but emulate Lisa just by singing the words with exactly the same idiosyncracies that Lisa would use. Joe as he does on the recorded track proved to be the perfect foil.
There was a chance for a real Shires song, with "Happy New Year", co written by Kaity with Ben Earle, with Joe doing a fair approximation of Ben. It was time for Joe to be himself for "If You Were Mine", his voice at times delightfully high and soulful, with Kaity adding supporting vocals while at other times his voice really let rip and filled the room. Joe and Kaity often write songs together, and one yet to find a home in a recorded version was "I Do", sung as a duet and once again, close you eyes and it was reminiscent of early Shires. which is no bad thing. The good songs kept on coming, "Happy For You" came with its wonderful story, of the one left behind when your best friend finds a new boyfriend/girlfriend. Although Joe lightened the mood with some quips, it was a tender, heartfelt song which was delivered beautifully. One final song "Still Caught Up" saw full audience participation with Joe and Kaity in full Lady A mode. It got a wonderful reception as did all of their set, the audience appreciating both the short amount of time in which it was created as well as the quality of songs on display.
At Buckle & Boots, Tim Prottey-Jones has to deliver his set at breakneck speed to enable it to finish and allow the audience to take their positions for the headliner Tebay. It all made for an electrifying if brief performance so Country In The Afternoon provided Tim with a chance to take a more measured approach. Having seen his former compatriots a few weeks earlier give a show at times of pin dropping silence, there was to be none of that today, with the volume levels definitely set to 11, possibly even 12 as we had a run through of the songs that will make up his debut country solo album, as well as the debut of a brand new song already seemingly destined for greatness.
Once again it was to be an example of how to execute well crafted power country pop music opening in blistering style with "Fire". utilising Joe Dolman for his third appearance of the day on keyboards.
"Not too aggressive is it?" Tim inquired at the end of the song after the blockbuster start.
Tim's debut single "Bite The Bullet" followed, much more in the style of the Vespertine Mix eschewing a lot of the studio trickery and the song seemed transformed, with the acoustic guitar and piano coming through clearly and Tim's lyrics much more to the fore. There really was to be no letting the audience go once he had them in his grasp, "Good Life" with its co writer Jake Morrell looking on, merged considered verses with an explosive chorus around its central theme of "if nothing else be kind".
When a song comes with the introduction that it was written with Jeff Cohan and Ryan Kinder then expectations are immediately going to be set high. Sure enough "Love On Our Side" come with a chorus determined to burrow its way onto your head with Tim reeling of couples such as Bonnie & Clyde and Romeo & Juliet in a thumping chorus.
Things eventually had to slow down a little bit after such an opening, but there was to be no dip in quality in a set that for many will have been entirely new material. In it's recorded version "If I Do" is a duet with Stephanie Quayle, this afternoon it was delivered solo with its big power ballad chorus. If Tim was in any doubt as to how good it was then it came via his headphone wearing son who came to the front of the stage to give a thumbs up!
Of the new songs "Drinking For Three" saw Tim shifting back and forth as he delivered a song relating to the journey and rewards of parenthood. Complete with a good old fashioned 80's guitar solo this was retro in a good way.
Lisa Wright made another spectre like appearance via "Burn Out" a song she helped co write with Tim. More restrained and less driven by power pop but equally laden with hooks, this song immediately grabbed the listeners attention. The piano ballad "Breathless" saw Tim delivering his most exposed vulnerable vocal of the afternoon, with nowhere to hide he gave a truly tender and touching performance.
The contrast with the following song "Exit Wounds" could not have been greater, an all out aural assault on the ears which came with the warning "Don't be frightened!". Joe switched to guitar, the dual twin guitar attack really upped the intensity, that saw Tim holding the microphone in his hand, while resting his foot on the stage monitor, as they ripped through the song with its incessant power chant chorus.
The main set closed with "New Life" probably the most US country sounding song of the afternoon but things were not to end there. the inevitable encore yielded something special in the shape of a brand new song "Better Than This". With an almost native American chant running through the chorus it was easy to see why Tim wanted to get this song heard. Some times an audiences instant reaction is a good indicator as to how good a song is and the Putney crowd were soon joining in on chanting duties, providing an excellent way to close out Day 1.