Laura J Martin, Trwbador, Sophie Ballamy - Telfords, Chester
I didn't sleep a wink the night before. At 4.30am, sat with eyes like pickled onions in front of my computer with a camomile tea that was neither 'soothing' nor 'relaxing' me, I decided that putting gigs on wasn't for me. The thing that had kept me up was, strangely, a good-mannered kindness:
"Sorry I won't be able to make it, I'm a bit skint. I'm sure you'll have a great time and a lovely crowd."
The problem was, I had received that message - or variations of it - from about 20 people; 20 of the people who'd been good enough to invest their hard-earned money in my previous gigs.
No-one will turn up. You'll have dragged Laura J Martin, Gorky's legend Richard James and Trwbador up to play in front of a barfly and a red-faced promoter having a nervous breakdown...
It was the "I'm sure you'll have a lovely crowd" bit that was circling my mind like a wide-beaked vulture eyeing my reputation - such as it is - with dead, hungry eyes.
You wouldn't be so sure if you'd received as many messages like yours as I have.
Twitter woke up and started to scroll through the sleepless fug. I saw a message from John Rostron - King of Sŵn - and wondered how the hell he managed to make a living doing this, promoting, without bursting into one big ulcer. The thought became a tweet, without me having much memory of typing it, and then John replied. It was such a short, succinct message - even for a tweet - but one atypically sharp with wisdom:
"I think I just remind myself I could be doing something I didn't love. That, plus I sit on my backside playing a LOT of Xbox..."
That was the cold glass of water in the face I needed. He was so, so right. I put bands on because I love them. I want people to hear the music that I most love, that's what the haemoglobin in my blood carries. Putting gigs on in these austere times is like altitude training for that love, because the things of true beauty and wonder become that much more valuable when most other things in the world have been shown up to be transparent with lies and fakes and worry.
Flair is the right word, trust me. Over the years, I've heard millions of dullards zombie deathwalk their way through ploddy chord sequences a slug could predict. I've heard every conceivable variation of the 'fire', 'desire', 'higher' lyrical gruel. I can smell a stale fart songwriter from a million paces. Some of us just weren't born to fly. Sophie, however, modestly soars.
I hate adverbs. Passionately. But Sophie is both modest and soaring so you'll have to forgive me. She doesn't look like she'd say 'excuse me' to a duckling barring a fire exit, but her songs and her guitar playing are giddy with playfulness and invention. I could make a hundred hackneyed comparisons to other female songwriters, on the basis of Sophie's chromosomes, but instead I implore you to check her songs out. They make the world a lot of a little better.
Y Niwl's Sîon Glyn is DJing for us tonight, and playing amazing records I have never heard before. He's another musical giver; a man whose DNA spirals like a Coltrane solo.
Trwbador are a gemstone of a band. I spent much of my youth traipsing through quarries, or over beaches, eyes desperate for the glitter of a piece of amethyst, citrine, cornelian, agate, garnet or smoky quartz. I didn't find any of those, ever. I found a lot of broken glass and used condoms; dead jellyfish and faded detergent bottles. A salutary lesson for life.
But in Trwbador - and here's a World Record of a mixed metaphor - all of those gemstones have come home to roost. Angharad's voice is flawless, diffracting the gamut of human emotion into a rainbow of perfect colours. There's no faux emoting, no artless vibrato, none of the X Factor, stage school mannerisms that smear so many other voices in effluent. There is just Angharad and notes that are glad to have been faceted so perfectly.
You could be forgiven for thinking that Trwbador are petrified with nerves. They're so still. Angharad stands at an angle that makes it almost impossible to see her face. If I had a face four fathoms below Angharad's on the beauty scale, I'd show it at every opportunity. I'd insist that these BBC blogs flowed over a background image of my grinning mush.
But I don't think Trwbador are nervous. I think it takes great confidence in what you're doing to strip your songs to the barest bones - voice, acoustic guitar, glockenspiel and lonely bass drum - and play them in front of strangers.
None of us are strangers for long. The whole room hugs these songs to their hearts. Trwbador are so perfect I'm having a little weep just thinking about it.
I have a little rant about Kasabian and Elbow and orchestras and big sounds signifying nothing from the stage. I use a bad swear word in front of my mum. Sorry mum.
And then, even after all the glittering wonders and beauty that has preceded her, Laura J Martin appears like a whole other dimension of amazing. Sometimes, cooped up in the box bedroom I laughably call an office, staring endlessly at a computer screen that will never give me enough love, I feel like one of those sightless, albino fish that lives in a cave in Mexico, or Mozambique. Sometimes, not all the time. I'm not sure anyone - not even Elton John in his coked up, peacocked to the gills prime - ever feels that life is one long, glittering party, with themselves as the epicentre.
Suffice to say, quite a few of my days - like yours - are humdrum. Hearing - seeing - Laura J Martin is like having a Mardi Gras of aceness explode in my head. She seems to have been blessed with a whole philharmonic orchestra's worth of musical talent: piano, mandolin, flute, ring-a-roses rhythms.
That she can pirouette all of these sounds out with such grace and transcendence is a rare gift indeed. All of us who saw her had never seen anything like this before. Even those of us who had seen her before. She's that unique in her talents, I'm convinced as I write this the following morning, that I must have dreamt part of her up.
And like all the best fairy tales, there's something sinister lurking behind these songs, something Laura herself doesn't seem to be in control of. That she skips in front of the monsters chasing her, flute in hand, defying them with little hand dances like spells, just makes the whole thing that much more enchanting. She's the kid in Spirited Away grown up. Little Red Riding Hood with a brandy in her hand.
She has pedals at her feet that make sounds appear that put smiles on our faces. She sings about Japanese arsonists as if they had scales and smoke coming from their snouts. Her flute sounds like a flock of macaws flying through an emerald canopy. She's like early Angela Carter in aural incarnation.
Yep, I'm smitten, and I'm not the only one, thank the dear Lord who I'm almost starting to believe in.
You should have been there, not simply to soothe my anxieties; you should have been there to chase away your own.
Addendum: In a different life, I put Coldplay on in this venue (Telford's Warehouse). While a select handful of humanity are swept up in Laura J Martin's musical vision, Pantymwyn's Jonny Buckland is collecting Coldplay's award for Best British Band at the Brits. That's a notable achievement for a man who went to the Alun School in Mold. Congratulations Jonny. We're proud of you.
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