Elma showcased their new line-up in the attractive setting of a riverside art gallery in the small cathedral city of Ely, well worth the short journey from Cambridge.
It had been a much longer trip from Ireland for singer/songwriter Darragh Cullen; he immediately made a connection with the audience as he performed a short collection of originals accompanied by his acoustic guitar and smooth background vocals from Sinead McConville.
‘Rising Tide’ set the tone for evocative, rhythmic-driven songs, given a personal touch with the description of life for twenty-somethings in Dublin’s ‘Bridge Street’. Darragh moved to piano for new song ‘Leave With Love’ then finished his fine set with a bit of audience singing for gospelly new single ‘Alright’.
It was the first Elma show for multi-instrumentalist and singer Rhiannon Penney, making a big impact in the first song ‘On Track’. In a new direction for the band, Rhiannon unleashed her inner Bonnie Raitt for a belting slice of double guitar blues rock. Having the extra instrumental options means more flexibility in their live set; with Rhiannon at the piano for ‘The Game’, a sinister waltz that could easily be a classic sixties TV theme.
When not playing his great-sounding semi-acoustic guitar Mark Ellis is a relaxed and witty frontman and he described the background to some of his newer compositions, including the elegiac ode to change ‘For Yesterday’ relating to the closure of music venues, as well as the romantic London skyline that inspired ‘City Lights’. This is a delicate but show-stopping ballad, beautifully sung by the duo with the subtlest of guitar backing.
Some of the more uptempo tracks from debut LP ‘Dreamland’ were re-imagined including a slower version of ‘Slo-Mo’ (the song that started off the band) and ‘California’ the stomping anthem I last saw performed with a full brass section at the Portland Arms album launch.
The new arrangements show the depth of the songwriting, with the two musicians able to complement each other and embellish the structures of each piece.
‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’ was a memorable song to cover for an encore (at the soulful pace of the Gladys Knight hit version) then this excellent show closed with their bittersweet Spector spectacular ‘September’.
Off into the studio soon and fired with enthusiasm the future looks bright for Elma…
(Photo by Paul Cullen)