When we last ventured out into the post covid live review business who would have thought it would be a further 8 months before the next one, but such is how events have panned out. The heady optimism that night looked shaky from the very start, with orders not to sing along widely flouted and the distancing between tables probably unlikely to have to have stood an actual test with a tape measure.
Our latest foray, came via the good people at Talentbanq, and it gave a timely chance to catch up with Poppy Fardell just as she was releasing her latest EP and our favourite harp wielding, fiddle playing songstress in Devon Mayson. It's been fully 15 months since we last saw these two ladies at a particularly fine Write Like A Girl show in Camden and so it was going to be fascinating to see how they would deal with a return to playing in front of actual people and whether the time in between had provided a creative burst or not.
Eccleston Yards is on the boundary of Belgravia, and is a courtyard consisting of well to do independent stalls and restaurants, in one corner is a wall with an NHS rainbow mural, in front of that a gazebo, providing cover for the artists while playing. It is surrounded by a low level white picket fence and there is a small raised circular stage which both artists decide to eschew. The audience has enough room to be reasonably distant from each other, and it is good to report that many of the faces familiar to anyone on the Americana circuit had safely made it though the pandemic and had all found themselves similarly in need of a fix of live music.
Playing outdoors and for free always puts an event at risk from the English weather and from noise by those not invested in what is occurring however today saw the rain just about hold off and in general noise, be it an overflying plane or the odd bit of laughing and chatter was certainly bearable. It also meant that both Poppy and Devon probably added more crowd pleasing covers than perhaps they normally would to their sets and like footballers coming back from a long injury there were a few signs of them not yet quite being at full match fitness however that will soon return and none of that really mattered, the important thing was that they were back and playing before our very eyes!!
Poppy Fardell kicked of her set with a cover of "Nothing Breaks Last a Heart" which was segued into a speedy "Jolene", Sounding in fine voice and with the sun shining this was a fine way to start. To complete the opening salvo of covers was one from Taylor Swift, "King Of My Heart", with Poppy tapping her guitar to provide a little percussion on the chorus.
It is Poppy's original material that has helped her make such an impact the UK scene in such a short period of time and "Lose Myself In You" with its punchy pop chorus gave us the afternoons first bit of audience vocal participation.
Changing things down a gear saw Poppy play "Drive" from her brand new "Better Start" EP, , much softer both in terms of guitar playing and vocal delivery it captured the audiences attention and got them to join in on the chorus at Poppy's request. It is remarkable how quickly stagecraft comes back to you and Poppy looked ever more comfortable and relaxed as things progressed.
There was time for some unreleased material, "Double Denim" about things that shouldn't go together but do, once again showed Poppy's ear for a classic pop tune while "Good Girl" definitely had some country roots to it and a chorus that seems destined to be sung out loud at future shows.
There was a return to more well known country fare with a Chicks cover of "Travelling Soldier" which was incredibly well received. The closing section saw Poppy return to the song that launched her, the enigmatic "Hayley" that never fails to delight with its ever mysterious lyrics and unstoppable chorus, that the the gathered throng were more than happy to join in on. To close, there was one last visit to her new EP with the title track "Better Start", probably her most outright country song to date, and one that made a big impact from the very first time we saw Poppy supporting Vic Allen. Sadly due to time constraints there was no room for an encore which she would certainly have deserved but before she packed up her guitar, the queue to purchase her new EP was sign of a successful return to live active duty!
Poppy certainly got the best of the afternoon weather, and by the time Devon Mayson started, she needed to be well wrapped up as there was a definite nip in the air. It was to be a similar mix of covers and originals starting with "Lipstick In The Limelight" from her excellent "Lie To Me" album. In theory you'd imagine having 2 female singers both just playing acoustic guitars could be similar yet they were distinctly different and equally successful in terms of delivery and guitar playing styles.
Devon's first cover of the day followed with LeAnn Rimes "Can't Fight The Moonlight" which she joked she' wished she'd written. It was hard not to note the sheer joy on Devon's face at being able to perform again, as each song came with a wide smile.
Launching into a Celine Dion cover of "Think Twice" with the introduction "Now for some real cheese!" Devon showed signs of finding her stagecraft again, taking a step back before really letting rip on the required power vocal.
There was more performance magic with "No", with some guitar knocking and a stomping foot adding to the overall sound along with rapid fire guitar playing. Noting "it's so good to be back gigging" it was time for an assault on Sandi Thom's "I Wish I Was Punk Rocker" played with a certain gusto that you could not help but enjoy.
Given the choice of "Fast Or Slow?", the audience chose fast and were rewarded with a rapid fire cover of "Whenever We're Meant To Be Together" sounding distinctly latino in this most unusual of atmospheres. Recent days have shown pictures of Devon in a recording studio, hopefully for a long awaited 2nd album, and one song firmly deserving a place will be "Back In Time", a song about dementia in her own family but dealt with in such a realistic and delicate way that it deserves a wider audience.
A little break for some covers saw a powered out "You've Got The Love" with Devon undoubtedly firing on all cylinders followed by the second take on "Jolene" of the day, Devon opting for a slowed down opening verse before ramping up the pace for the rest of the song. Always a mainstay of a Devon Mayson set and undoubtedly the performance of the day was "Fly High", sung with beauty and heartfelt feeling, it never fails to move.
The afternoon took a bizarre twist with a moment that would have surely seen Devon burnt at the stake in the 16th century as she but sung the opening lines of "You Are My Sunshine" only to see it break through the clouds and bathe the audience in its rays. One suspects that when Devon normally plays her version of the "Belle Of Belfast City" that it might be with her on the fiddle, this guitar version was delivered at breakneck speed, it was hugely enjoyable watching Devon fire out the words to keep up with her own playing.
If you are going to end a country gig on a cover then there is only one song to go to and "Country Roads" brought the afternoon to a close with both a singalong and indeed a clapalong.
While this was undoubtedly more of a stepping stone back to normality rather than a giant leap back into an intimate atmosphere it was great to see a couple of artists thriving on the rapport that comes from the interaction with an audience, the sort that cannot be created online no matter how accomplished the performer. This is the third week that Talentbanq have been running this afternoon weekend session if live music is to return again to the capital then it needs these sort of events to kick things off.