The rain may have been pouring down outside, but the first Down to the Wire event of 2019 was anything but a damp squib. The Barnfield Theatre, the new home of CCSW, offered a cosy atmosphere for performers and onlookers alike on Tuesday 3rd February. Even so, the stage played host to a torrent of talent.
First up is Sharon Lazibyrd, a folk songwriter who caught the attention of BBC Introducing late last year. Both gentle ukulele and rhythmic violin are a part of her set, but it is Lazibyrd’s storytelling that really catches the ear. What Time Is Later muses about the passing of time, carried by a light folk melody; Opium of the Masses delivers an earnest commentary on the modern world (“In a crowd yet all alone, no-one to talk to just the phone”); and More for Less fuses strident folk foundations with an anti-austerity message.
In contrast to Lazibyrd’s topical poetry, Scott Morrison and Ishy stick to the timeless subjects of love and life. Perhaps this is unsurprising, given that the pair — who go by the names of Phil Andrews and Ishbel Wenley off stage — are wedded partners. They start with 180 Degrees Around, a soft lullaby drenched in warm tones. The intensity increases with Desire, which paints an unflinching portrait of love through the medium of interwoven vocals and Morrison’s finger-plucking. In the latter part of their set, Ishy takes centre stage, delivering This Man Too with a motown swagger as Morrison provides the percussive accompaniment on piano.
The find of the night must surely be Henry Bellairs. Having not performed for some time, Bellairs would be forgiven for being rusty. But there were no signs of cobwebs during his set, save for the apologetic comments between songs. His guitar glows with delightful chord progressions, and his voice has the vulnerable quality that many fail to produce. His set list includes Statues, a light hymn based on smooth falsetto holds, and he reminisces about his younger years in Wallow by the Willow Tree. Bellairs uses his full range in My Proposal to examine the meaning of commitment, while dancing through intricate runs on his gold frets.
Local favourite Chris Ostler is one of the most experienced performers on show, but his unique brand of polished pop still feels fresh. His tenor vocals pierce through powerful acoustic riffs that would fill a venue four times the size of the Barnfield. Another nice touch is the way he explains the meaning behind each song. Lamp Lights is a heartfelt tribute to his native Devon, as written at 2 a.m. on a park bench in Leicester. Anxious Boy is a brand new, up-tempo song that charts Ostler’s struggles with, and triumphs against, anxiety. Meanwhile, Sun and the Moon tells the story of a fleeting love.
Much like the dessert at the end of a five-course meal, Anna Jones is worth the wait. Despite having only started performing regularly within the last couple of years, her jazz-inspired repertoire is smooth and sophisticated. Little Bird is the kind of wistful song that made Ella Fitzgerald famous, with Jones delivering a gentle bossa nova melody on keys. Jones drums out a beat on the cajon for Rhythm of Our Hearts, a poetic number with a funky chorus, before extolling the virtues of the bright lights over an unexpected reggae rhythm in Neon City.
All in all, a great evening of sound. Be sure to reserve your spot for the next Down to the Wire, scheduled for March 5th.
To reserve a seat free of charge click here.
If you missed any of the Down To The Wire nights you can find the sets of those playing and much more here.