Amy LaVere ft. Will Sexton + Between The Vines, The Rose and Monkey, Manchester, 11th February 2020

Amy LaVere and Will Sexton travelled down to Manchester from their previous night’s show in Glasgow, via Newcastle. The reason for this lengthy detour, they informed us, was to retrieve Will’s jacket which he had left behind following their gig in that city. This “what the hell – let’s do it” attitude was also symptomatic of their approach to the final night of their UK tour which had begun with an appearance at AmericanaFest UK in London. Drawing upon a wide repertoire of songs but with no formal set list, the pair delivered a hugely entertaining night of music and chat that captivated all that had turned out on an indubitably wet and windy Manchester evening.

The moody soulful blues sound of ‘Damn Love Song’ perfectly introduced what was to follow, with the beautiful tone of Sexton’s jazz-inspired guitar perfectly intertwining with the mellow timbre of LaVere’s bass guitar, their collective sound wrapping itself around the songs and at times seemingly caressing them. If the opener was perfection, Amy and Will then proceeded to do a pretty convincing job of proving that, actually you can improve on perfection, by delivering a quite awesome rendition of ‘Hallelujah, I’m A Dreamer’. A quartet of songs from the 2014 ‘Runaway’s Diary’ album were performed in chronological order, beginning with ‘Big Sister’ and concluding with ‘Rabbit’. Amy explained that although they could all stand alone as songs, it seemed to make sense to deliver them that way and who would argue?

The cosy, warm atmosphere of the Rose and Monkey, a relatively new small venue, provided the kind of intimacy whereby everyone in the room could feel a personal connection with the artists. Amy LaVere’s dialogue with the audience was conversational in a way that made you feel that she was sat down next to you, rather than standing up on stage. The whole ambience was one of sharing a performance, rather than simply delivering it. Seeing two such accomplished performers engage with an audience in such a fulsome, sometimes even effusive manner, was a rare treat.

Continuing with the show, Amy recalled her time on tour playing bass for Seasick Steve. Quite apart from the whole ‘world turned upside down’ aspect of this scenario, she recounted that it was on his tour bus that she had first heard, and fell in love with, the music of John Martyn. She then played an exquisite version of ‘ I Don’t Want To Know’, listening to which, brought a picture into the mind of the broad smile that might have appeared on the face of the much-missed folk genius. Immediately following this with Elvis Costello’s ‘Shipbuilding’ they further demonstrated the pair’s talent as song interpreters, as well as songwriters. They later shut that case altogether, by covering both Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Ain’t Leavin’ Your Love’ and Neil Young’s ‘The Losing End’ with equal aplomb.

Songs such as the ‘No Battle Hymn’ and ‘Pointless Drinking’ further underlined the quality of Amy LaVere’s own songwriting. As the performance effortlessly meandered towards the end of the set, there was no let-up in quality. Anyone waiting for a weaker song to utilise the opportunity to visit the bar would have gone thirsty. When the end was reached, it was greeted by a richly deserved ovation. The pair then hung around afterwards to chat to all who wished to do so. This, despite informing us that they had to be up at six in the morning to catch their flight back home. It had been one of those nights when everything seemed to come together perfectly to produce a truly magical experience.

Support for the evening was provided by Rochdale duo Rebecca and Kev Whitehead, the driving force behind country-rock band Between The Vines. They played a well-received set of original songs and a Will Hoge cover. The songs stood up well but it was Rebecca’s strong, clear and slightly raspy voice that really carried them off. The band have just made a video to accompany their latest single ‘Driftwood’. Take three minutes out of your life to give it a look – you’ll be well rewarded.

Thanks to Leslie Shimmin, talented photographer and all round top bloke, for the use of his superb pictures.

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