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  • Writer's pictureCHRIS FARLIE

Morganway / Alyssa Bonagura - Omeara

For Morganway tonight was not just about plugging their forthcoming album, or indeed their new "gig only" available live CD, or indeed the next album which is already in the can - this was an acknowledgement that they had moved up a division. This was moving on from just playing an hour or so of electric musical set pieces, they've had that in their armour for years - this was a grander scheme, a greater attention to both sound and vision - soundwise whether it be Matt's melotron or NIcole hand plucking her violin or vision wise with the smoke and lighting used to great affect - it all felt just that little more polished than previous. With a boisterous enthusiastic crowd, this very much had the feeling that surrounded both The Shires and Ward Thomas before they made their own leaps into the mainstream.

Morganway's taking to the stage was signalled by Kieron's searing "guitar hero" intro announcing them. With Ed's drumming building the intensity and lights blindingly flashing - we were soon underway with "Let Me Go" ,elevated to opener to really get things off with a bang. The narrowness of Omeara meant that the stage was packed with not a lot of room to spare - in fact before the opening song was through, Nicole would thwack Callum accidentally with her bow! With SJ hand holding her mic and delivering her vocals with customary venom. Kieron adding more driving guitar work, Nicole then taking the baton with a fiddle solo and everyone providing backing vocals - this was more entertainment in one song than some bands can muster in an entire set.

This was to be set with no fillers and few opportunities to take a breather, "Come Over" came with SJ showing an increased sense of theatricality ending with her head tilted back and her arm aloft pointing to the ceiling in a song that had seen the audience spontaneously join in.The ends of the spectrum came with the next few songs "My Love Ain't Gonna Save You" announced as a "really old song", while "The Man" from the new album "Back To Zero" is the latest single. The former a cast iron winner, the latter a brooding masterpiece that builds up with a shift in gear towards the end akin to Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain". Set to a blur of lights and vocals. "Frozen In Our Time" saw SJ move to a somewhat breathy vocal and the stage would be bathed in frozen icy blue lights - ending with a retina burning finale - a true theatrical set piece.

An acoustic break provided a chance for everyone to gather their breath - it saw Matt come forward from behind his keyboard to play melotron which blended perfectly with Nicole's fiddle, while Ed perpetually hidden for much of the night was standing and providing his percussion via a shaker.

A return to the main set for "You Can Only Die Once" saw it turn into another piece of theatre - at one point SJ put in a fearsome note on the line "What kind of love" and gave a look that said "yes that was me!", while for Nicole's solo the band members seemed to disappear to the back of the stage in the smoke, leaving only Nicole in the spotlight - it was very subtle yet incredibly effective.

The first hints of the next album came with "Don't Turn The Lights On", anyone fearing a new direction need not worry, this was driven at a furious pace with SJ's vocals seemingly going as high as they could, before going up higher not just once but twice. The assembled crowd who were not the retiring type fully found their voice for "The World Stopped Running" - the power of the chant rocking Omeara to its core was something to behold. This was where NIcole's violin picking could be heard against the mayhem that was raging all around.

A brand new song came in the shape of "Home", which brought an air of calmness to proceedings - describing their life as band - laden with moving lyrics and what could sum the band up better than

"Side by side we jump and land"

It even saw at one point SJ spontaneously putting her arm around Nicole.

Matt's dramatic cinematic piano intro before being joined by Nicole and Ed on fiddle and drums would prove to be the prelude to "Wait For Me" - where both fiddle and drums would give the song an increased sense of urgency. Once again SJ would add a little more theatricality with a shrug and a smile as another glass shattering note was dispatched with ease. The next album was also referenced by the frankly bonkers "Feels Like Feels Like Feels Like Letting Go" - SJ seemed to take the line "They said that she was crazy" to heart and at times almost looked possessed on the hoot of a chorus. The main set would close with a barnstorming "London Life" with SJ belatedly remembering her lack of tambourine - it was a wondrous sight to see Omeara rocking.

There was still a surprise to come with the first encore "We SIng", a new song that would see the return of opener Alyssa Bonagura and would be something of a Gaelic affair with Callum leading on vocals and acoustic guitar. It would see the venue that had been rawkus but a few moments earlier go to being pindrop silent. With SJ and Alyssa providing affecting backing vocals this was truly something different, and saw the ubiquitous phones raised in appreciation - by the end the audience would be humming along with the backing vocals.

With Alyssa's guitarist Steve returning to the stage there was just time for the revamped "Hurricane" with the opening verse played at a slow bluesy pace before eventually returning to its more familar barnstorming set closing format.

This did seem like a landmark performance, a stepping stone, possibly the most complete performance #TEAMw21 have yet seen Morganway give and we have see many.

The evening had started with a set from Alyssa Bonagura who is fast becoming an honourary Brit and a familiar face at Omeara - along with her Welsh guitarist Steve Shirley. With just a pair of acoustic guitars they provided a lively entertaining set - and it was great to see at times, various members of Morganway popping out to catch her performing.

Opening with the uptempo "New Wings" with its irresistible chorus - Alyssa instantly built a rapport with crowd. She has a clutch of rather superior country tunes such as "Other Side Of The World", the tale of missing the person you love when separated by geography for which Steve added some additional backing vocals.

For "Circles" the song she wrote for Jana Kramer, Alyssa and Steve faced each other as they got the guitar introduction underway - with Steve taking the central riff and Alyssa the additional support, they made a formidable team and brought a degree of intensity to the chorus.

"Road Less Travelled" had a lovely autobiographical feel, and let you into Alyssa's outlook on life

"I ain't gonna chase money or fame

Just going to do what makes me smile"

A dip back into the 2012 for "Warrior" saw her exclaim "Music is my healer" and it saw just how much volume 2 acoustics could make.

A new song "Jealous" immediately had the crowd clapping and singing. With Steve providing the guitar work, Alyssa was free to be expressive with her hand gestures as she delivered the rapid fire lyrics.

The next song "Rebel" was written as a prayer and it saw Alyssa predominantly singing with her eyes closed. Slightly slower paced, there were lovely moment, such as when Alyssa would gently tilt her head back as she hitf some lovely extended notes - and had the audience joining in unrequested on the final lines of each chorus.

The set would close with the uptempo pop sound of "I Make My Own Sunshine" even finding time to have a male v female contest on the chorus with some hilarious results. Time with Alyssa was richly rewarding and she set the tone for the evening perfectly.




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