Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Chris Cleverley + Kelly Oliver - Kitchen Garden, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Sunday 17th December 2017

Mid December is usually the time of year when the overseas tours have wound up and the live music domain is left for the home-grown talent to wrap up the last twelve months. This was certainly the case in the gig quarter of Kings Heath, with both the Hare and Hounds and the Kitchen Garden hosting local acts in a festive celebratory gathering. While Birmingham favourites Boat to Row undoubtedly raised a glass to the upcoming holiday season in vibrant mode at the Hare, it left the mellower tones of Chris Cleverley to do likewise over the road at the Kitchen. Maybe there will always be a niche audience at these events, but it was pleasing to see the venue edging towards its capacity as Chris and his special guest Kelly Oliver set about sharing a slice of their musical serving.

There is a history of Chris and Kelly collaborating including a seasonal duet single release twelve months ago and being co-members of the folk ensemble: the Company of Players. Additionally, Kelly paid a recent visit to Birmingham as a guest of a Chris-curated folk night in nearby Moseley, and this evening’s show was a return to the Kitchen following a debut gig in 2016. To this end, both performers were primed for complementary solo sets before the inevitable duo reunion to crown a thoroughly entertaining night of folk music rich in its traditional and contemporary form.

Kelly, travelling up from her Hertfordshire base for this show, opened the evening with a fine mix of songs referencing different factions of her short, but blossoming career. ‘Miles to Tralee’ and the title track off her 2016 album BEDLAM represented that phase of her recorded output, alongside a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Boots of Spanish Leather ’, which was a significant part of her last gig at the venue. To signpost the future, Kelly did share a couple of new original tunes, but with her next album being revealed as made up of entirely traditional material, we may have to wait a while for these to surface on disc. As we have come to expect from Kelly, the songs were immaculately sung and presented with an ever increasing degree of assuredness.

This last trait is a tag that can also be attached to Chris Cleverley who has grown immensely as an artist since his earlier days as a perpetual opener at the Kitchen. A wry sense of humour interjecting some fine picking almost projects this artist to a similar degree as the subtle mix of traditional and original material. The super strength signature song from his 2015 APPARITIONS album ‘The Rafters’ once again proved the pick of Chris’s song selection, with its epic structure housing a serious message of inclusion. Alongside tales of festive adventures, we were also reminded of another Midlands songwriter in Dan Whitehouse, who co-incidentally was also hosting his own Christmas show on the same evening in nearby Wolverhampton. Chris paid tribute with a version of the song ‘Something in the Way’. One song sadly missing from the set was Chris’s excellent contribution to the Company of Players project: ‘But Thinking Makes It So’, but on the other hand, we later heard Kelly’s own effort for this upcoming Shakespeare commemoration album in the guise of ‘You Must Needs Be Strangers’.

The latter occurred in the much anticipated part of the show where the duo got together to share a batch of well-rehearsed numbers including their previous festive offering ‘Ring O’ Bells’ and a few Christmas tunes from a folk perspective. The encore heralded the final twist of the evening with a nostalgic adaption of that timeless seasonal classic ‘Wombling Merry Christmas’. Fair play to Chris and Kelly for digging up a relic to them, but more than a fair few members of the audience were taken back to those heady Glam Rock days of 1974. A perfect end to a night built on a sound substance, and providing a springboard to where these aspiring artists can progress in the New Year. 

One for the kids:

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