In a positive way it can be exhausting keeping up with the work of Emily Barker. Just in the last couple of years she has been caught live in the Applewood Road, Vena Portae and Red Clay Halo formats, each of these collusions proving an ideal mode for her expansive talent credentials. This evening the live format has been widened further to a duo performance with Lukas Drinkwater and this winning combination successfully opened the year for the music operation dedicated to bringing high quality artists to Bewdley.
It was business as usual for these shows at St. George’s Hall – youth and local opening acts, a packed venue and a headliner representing the cream of music proudly flying the flag for the country, folk and Americana banner. Emily has been on the organisers’ horizon for a while and her time in the spotlight didn’t budge one iota from the lofty expectation. The vocals were as sublime as ever and a song selection framed the majesty of how her influences form a very individual take on music. The guitar and harmonica were the main instruments of choice, but the availability of a decent sized piano adjacent to the stage proved irresistible.
This little sortie to utilise the keys was an opportune moment to introduce a song from her next project which is a solo album, already recorded last year in Memphis, but now going through a final fund raising push to get it out to everybody in May. The song was inspired by rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe and written from the perspective of her accomplice Maria Knight. ‘Goodbye Sister’ was mightily impressive and we were treated to another fascinating new song when she returned to the stage to sing ‘Over My Shoulder’, a piece co-written with Boo Hewerdine.
Before we leave the piano behind, Emily wasn’t the first performer on the evening to use it. Fourteen year old local school girl Rachel Howell played an opening set displaying a poise, maturity and level of performance way beyond her years. Piano was one of her three chosen instruments and not a single person present would have failed to be moved by the way she delivered an array of songs featuring such diverse sources as Red Hot Chili Peppers and Peggy Lee, alongside a couple of originals. Sandwiched between Rachel and Emily was another local band in the guise of The Dharma Bums, bringing a selection of roots orientated cover and original tunes to the evening. Both artists essential to the promoters' ideals of mixing and matching the presention.
No sooner had the band ended their set with a fine version of Dylan’s ‘Tangled Up in Blue’, Emily and Lukas were on after a quick turnaround and there was no better place to start than the acoustic rendition of ‘Dear River’. This is one of Emily’s best songs and although the electric version slightly edges it in my book, it still got the set off to a tremendous start. The audience didn’t have to wait too long before we were serenaded by her most widely known piece and the essential story of how ‘Nostalgia’ became the soundtrack to the TV series Wallender. We weren’t finished there with screen adaption music and the sheer beauty of ‘Anywhere Away’ was heralded in full glory as we learned of its origin for use in the indie film Hector.
Elsewhere in the set, the style of music fluctuated without any reduction in awe inspiring quality. Frank Turner’s ‘Field of June’ took the theme in the folk rock murder ballad direction, Springsteen’s ‘Tougher Than the Rest’ was a nostalgic nod to her Aussie upbringing and the stunning gospel inspired main set closer ‘Precious Mama’ sent chills around the room. Just when we were getting to grips to what Emily is presently doing, she proudly introduced another new tune (name escapes me) which had just been recorded in Stroud with Lukas and a couple of other artist friends.
This was a truly special show to launch not only the Music in Hall 2017 programme but the annual gig journey of many folks in attendance. Lukas played a sterling stoic role on cello displaying evidence why he is a sought after musician on the folk music circuit. The framework he provided for Emily’s songs was a key component for the success of the evening which inevitably was another confirmation of Emily Barker’s position as a treasured artist on the UK’s folk, Americana and singer-songwriter circuit. Like many a previous year, 2017 is shaping up to be another sensational twelve months for Emily and maybe her appreciation gathering gained a few more converts after this debut Bewdley show.