Laurie Levine opened the show and immediately her haunting tales of love lost and found hit the right mood. She is a singer and songwriter from South Africa, with strong but vulnerable, emotive vocals and her own effective acoustic guitar, backed up with subtle keyboards and on the up tempo ‘Not Gonna Cry’ accompanied by excellent harmonica from Jessica Lauren. The short set of five songs were varied country and folk blues, featuring an American traditional roots sound but with something extra special added. Many of her recorded songs feature a full band and that would be very good to see live, but for this show she made a big impact with just the sparse instrumentation, her warm personality and that great expressive voice.
The intimate and thoughtfully designed J2 venue was well suited to the evening, it is a good sized space, excellent acoustics and atmosphere. Next on was Helen McCookerybook, she first found fame in the early eighties as bass player and singer of The Chefs, a fun punk rock band from Brighton. Martin Stephenson and his band arrived on stage as her backing band and together they played an infectious blend of skiffle and indie pop, her pure and attractive voice blending well with the music. It was all a pleasure to listen to and the onstage enjoyment communicated well to the audience.
As is the current trend, the main part of the set for Martin Stephenson was the performance of a whole album, in this case ‘Gladsome, Humour and Blue’ from 1988, the excellent follow up to the highly acclaimed debut album ‘Boat to Bolivia’. Martin is a talented guitarist and singer and he and the band adapted to the wide range of folk, roots, blues and rock of the varied set of songs. He engages constantly with the audience, between and during songs, and also bringing himself and the band out amongst us, still playing.
I have been a fan for many years (the last time I saw MS I stood behind John Peel in the crowd, but didn’t talk to him unfortunately…) and I enjoy the live performances, although it is a different atmosphere from the albums, where some of the recorded versions of the quieter songs are immaculate examples of heartbreaking words and musical crafting. He is a likeable, friendly personality and I think that his deconstruction of some of the lyrics and eccentric random musings make an entertaining evening, but did not leave much time for much more than the album, so I missed hearing some of his other brilliant songs…