Emerge: Yorkshire (feat. T E Morris, Ellen Smith, Chris Helme) – Pocklington Arts Centre, 10th January 2014
At the Apollo in 1976 Neil Young assured the Glasgow audience that whilst everyone thought of him as being a very sad person he actually was just as happy as John Denver. Tonight in the more tranquil surroundings of the Arts Centre in Pocklington – a small market town in the East Riding of Yorkshire – in front of a similarly sold-out crowd, a number of local musicians put the grizzled Canadian singer-songwriter’s sentiments to the test.
Partly funded by the Arts Council, England and in what will become a series of exciting new events, Emerge: Yorkshire is aimed at further promoting some of the region’s finest singer-songwriters. This evening’s three principals are people more often associated with bands – for T E Morris it is as the frontman of Her Name Is Calla; Ellen Smith’s day job is with Ellen and the Escapades; whilst the nominal headliner Chris Helme will forever be known as the man who was plucked from relative obscurity and was asked to join John Squires’ first post- Stone Roses venture, The Seahorses.
Proceedings get under way in somewhat atypical fashion with local students Jonathan & Anna putting in a spirited performance of jigs and Irish reels on their respective guitar and fiddle. Later described affectionately by Chris Helme as the “master of the morose”, T E Morris then sets a more lugubrious musical tone through a clutch of songs which capture his stark introspection and raw emotional honesty as a songwriter. Faced with searing on-stage heat, a laptop malfunction (which briefly threatens to break the celestial spell cast by “I Love You Satellite”)and other technical difficulties he still manages to produce a compelling vignette of his art. Watching and listening to T E Morris perform is akin to suddenly finding yourself confronted with the deeply personal crisis of someone you have only just met. It is an experience that may well be incredibly uncomfortable but you somehow remain there completely transfixed, unable to leave such is the resonance it creates within your own reality. His closing song ‘Your Life In Pictures’, straddling a line between a young Roy Harper and Jeff Buckley is a powerful testament to the man’s great talent.
It would initially seem that for Ellen Smith any other place on earth would have been infinitely more preferable to the one in which she found herself tonight. Looking like a very young Melanie, she was engulfed by the stage and her apparent nervousness accentuated the fragility of her music. But without the safety net of the Escapades and playing her first live show in over five months she slowly began to find both her feet and vocal range. The only word to even adequately describe the as-yet-unreleased ‘I Just Can’t Love You Anymore’ would be beautiful. An emotive, emotional reflection on the sad demise of a personal relationship it is a song that would have sat so comfortably alongside any other in 1970’s Laurel Canyon and is one in which her voice – a smouldering, pitch-perfect instrument – is really quite sublime.
With marked self-deprecation, Smith spoke of bringing her “miserable” set here this evening. A different perception could be that she had performed nine songs of genuine heart and soul, the last of which ‘Nowhere Man’ reinforcing the sheer disbelief that she is not a huge star. She is playing some dates in March with the Escapades in Leeds, Manchester, Bristol and London. Miss them at your peril.
For Chris Helme to be continually located within the context of his having fronted The Seahorses for what were three relatively short years in the late 1990s loses sight of not only the rest of a career which has now spanned some two and a half decades, but also his undoubted flair as a singer, guitarist and songwriter. Supported most exquisitely this evening on guitars by his former sidekick in The Yards, Chris Farrell he took uson a meandering, at times quite mesmerising trip through his back pages; a new song ‘Sailing Home’, due to appear on his next solo album which is provisionally slated for an April release; before signing off with first and by request, the Seahorses hit single ‘Blinded By The Sun’ and a rousing finale of Nina Simone’s ‘Be My Husband’.
It can be grim up North, of that there is no doubt, and much of the material heard here this evening could be described as melancholic. But it was music for both the heart and mind, performed with a collective smile on its face by a group of musicians who are strong on commitment, spirit and in firm possession of a great sense of optimism. If this is the shape of things to come, then 2014 promises to be a very good year indeed.
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