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  • Chris Farlie

Michele Stodart - Norden Farm Arts Centre - Maidenhead

When your album has been years in the making and is deeply personal then it is natural that you would want to tour it - Michele Stodart's latest album "Invitation" is just such an album and to celebrate it she has enbarked on a 21 date tour with more dates to be added. #TEAMw21 are catching it on night 19 at the Norden Farm Arts Centre, a venue so quiet that as the lights go down you can hear the footsteps of the band as they make their way to the stage.

There is no musician that quite conveys their enjoyment at playing live like Michele Stodart, whichever instrument she is playing becomes a natural extension of hersellf and will be rotated to a variation of angles like a clocks hour hand. Michele herself will normally either prowl the stage, crouch down low or be bouncing as she plays, dependent on the rhythm of the tune she is playing - few of these options though would be on offer tonight as she has shifted to the right and takes her position centre stage.

Her band tasked with bringing "Invitation" to life on tour have been equally expertly assembled. Emma Holbrook is a percussionist supreme, perfectly able to adjust her playing to suit the size of the venue she is performing in. To use the term drummer would underplay her part in the evenings proceedings, sure she can provide a steady back beat, however it is the inventive rhythms and cymbal work that will provide another layer of atmospherics. Holly Carter on bass and pedal steel will equally not just play but enhance each song with her presence while Andy Bruce on keyboards ( along with Holly ) will provide backing vocals and also make telling countributions to help realise each tune. There should also be a mention for Matt the excellent sound man at the Norden Farm Arts Centre - rarely has a show seemed better balanced.

The first half of the evening would be a recreation of the "Invitation" album in full, Opening with "Tell Me", Michele's acoustic guitar was marvellously prominent the rest of the band were totally sympathetic in their playing, never overpowering just perfectly adding to the intense drama provided by Michele's vocal, her final notes just left hanging in the air.

"This House" perfectly captured the essence of the recorded version, while "Push & Pull" detailing the life of being a musician and Mother, had a tremendously big overall sound. From the percussion, to the keyboards through to Michele vocalising the string parts to great effect the results were especially dramatic.

A big drum roll, combined with the bass and guitar to set the scene for "These Bones" which then eased into its jazzy rhythms with Michele adjusting her delivery to highlight specific lines. Each of the band would quietly play their part in "Undone" until halfway through when like the song they would bust into life - Emma's rhythms, and Holly's piearcing pedal steel all worked to great effect.

The stage would then darken for "Come Dance With Me" which would once again higlight a band at its most inventive, each player individually unmissable yet combined the total became greater than the sum of the parts and made something truly remarkable. The sheer musicality flowed though into "The Good Fight" , the chorus enhanced by excellent backing vocals. The final song of the first half was "Drowning" which in many way encompassed all that had passed previously, Holly's pedal steel cried like a seabird, Emma's cymbals were like crashing waves, while Michele's guitar provided the outline over which everything else hung. In many senses this was not a song in the traditional sense of the word, it was more akin to an orchestral piece being performed,

The second half of the evening would touch on an old song or two but would be mainly be new material - it would commence though with surprise guest in the shape of Charlie Dore. This was a special treat for #TEAMw21 who remember and still regularly play her magnificent "Pilot Of The Airwaves" single from 1979, as well as seeing her in another form as an improv comedian with the likes of Jeremy Hardy and Stephen Frost. Michele and Charlie would play "A Hundred Miles Of Nothing" from her "Like Animals" album, It would be a delightful few moments with the vocals wonderfully entwining and then producing sweet harmonies when they sang together, With Michele adding additional guitar flourishes, this was a magnificent way to get things restarted.

The band would reassemble on stage and revisit Michele's second album "Pieces" for "Ain't No Woman", played and sung in a most hypnotic manner, Michele's gently picked guitar line exceptionally combined with Emma's careful cymbal work to make something quite brilliant.

The writing of "Invitation" has clearly acted as a creative release, for the new and unrecorded songs that made up the rest of the set were of top drawer quality and suggested that we will not be waiting as long for a follow up. The next song "She's Electric" was not an unlikely Oasis cover, though it did have a slight anthemic feel to it including an audience participation section - it certainly seemed to free up Michele to lay down one of her most forthright and bold vocals of the evening - gently encouraging the crowd with a "You can't leave me hanging" to provide vocal backing as the band gradually faded out. The next song "Spin Me Round Again" came with an almost Springsteen like piano from Andy punctuating it, gradually building throughout complete with an instantly accessible perfect pop chorus.

The mood went countryish with "This Dreaming Song" which managed to combine some lines as libbed for the night as well as a selection of animal noises!! An uptempo guitar sound would lead us into the final song of the second set for a bit of rock n roll - on "We'll Meet Again One Day I'm Sure" - if afforded great opportunities for each musician to show off their talents.

The encore would see Michele play "You Can't Dismiss My Name" solo - totally absorbing, Michele's vocal would veer between making a bold statement to barely being a whisper over the gentlest of guitar lines in the most compelling of performances - as it completed an audience member could not help but blurt out "What a tune" - so affecting had it been. It was a perfect close to a pretty wonderful evening.

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