On the surface, the pairing of Blair Dunlop and Emma Stevens appears to be a curious combination with respect to their contrasting background, style and sound. However dig a little deeper and the synergy begins to emerge. Both are aspiring, driven and fiercely independent artists spinning the wheel of fortune with the power of the immaculate song. The skill of writing is an endemic part of their DNA and a key component of an innate ability to communicate via their craft. Ultimately Emma appears to crave that killer melody to unlock the door to limitless appeal, while Blair is seemingly pursuing a path of creative versatility to seek that niche of ultimate respect. The amalgamation of these two artists for a short UK tour presented the perfect opportunity to enjoy the yield of their energetic labours.
Over the course of her two albums to date, the first initially appeared in a 4 EP series; Emma has demonstrated the knack of penning a tune ripe for cross appeal airplay. This has led to national recognition of the song without necessary delivering the riches. On the upside the struggle for recognition further fuels Emma’s drive for organic growth leading to a steady surge in people buying into her mission. The practicality of this support enabled Emma to take her three piece band on this tour and thus the opportunity to transport the full impact of her studio tracks to the stage.
Emma should not under estimate her ability to perfect the art of solo delivery as twice during her hour long set the bulk of the band took a back seat to allow the depth of the ballad to be fully explored via the force of Emma’s vocal skills. These two numbers – ‘This is for You’ and ‘How to Write a Love Song’ – are also representative of her talent to perfect the capture of the three minute emotion. While this leaves food for thought about future development, the present is sold around her upbeat catchy offerings as the set opened with ‘Stop the World’ and was brought to a fitting climax with ‘Riptide’. Together Emma and her tightknit band sailed through a set of similarly styled tunes never straying from the spirit of uplifting your soul.
Blair Dunlop is in a mid-album transition period as he itches to get his new songs aired for initial audience reaction. The good news is that the song writing of this fabulous performer is firing on all cylinders and a new release, hopefully planned for 2016, will live up to the high standards of both BLIGHT AND BLOSSOM and HOUSE OF JACKS. Of the four new songs aired tonight, ‘I Don’t Know What to Make of it’ came across with the greater appeal, while ‘No Go Zone’, with its local connection, had the most profound effect. One of the other unrecorded songs ‘Castello’ was also featured in Blair’s recent solo show seen in Cookley with the introductory story proving a ‘mouth-watering’ accompaniment to its live launch. Time will no doubt reveal more about these songs.
While Blair, with his alluring dry wit, impressive guitar skills and engaging stage presence, is an accomplished solo performer, tonight was mainly about his band development. The addition of Jacob Stonely on keys and Fred Claridge on percussion allows his songs to emerge into spherical entities tinged with echoes of folk-rock and dosed with more than a subtle hint of Americana. The astute pairing of the twin songs – ‘45s (C.’14)’ and ‘45s (C.’69)’ as the set list’s book ends was the finest precision planning in motion especially as the former is fast becoming my favourite Blair Dunlop song, doubly so in its live format. Whilst veering away from regurgitating the set list, it would be remiss not to mention the excellent versions of ‘Blight and Blossom’ and ‘Chain by Design’. Meanwhile Blair should not have been surprised by level of cultural awareness in a Birmingham audience!
Without obvious crossover, this comprehensive evening of over two and a half hours of good music, was a resounding success. Opening duo Lost Art played their part with a short set full of lush harmonies before Emma and Blair gave a an explicit and endearing snapshot of where their burgeoning careers are in 2015. The future success of both artists will be keenly observed and if this tour proves a one off, it was a delight to be present.