David Celia and Marla, The Bell Inn, Bath, 17th April 2018

Toronto’s David Celia has seen it all touring extensively across Europe and North America in promotion of his latest album ‘Double Mind‘, so he’s picked up a trick or two along the way. Tonight’s turnout on a cold Tuesday night was below-par by The Bell’s standards but the Canadian singer/songwriter made the best of it early on, acknowledging the fact with a wry joke and pressing gamely ahead. He was joined by Marla, a fellow singer/songwriter from Germany and together they threw up images of a young Gram and Emmylou stepping out for the first time full of hope and fresh original songs of change. The venue lent itself to the atmosphere; The Bell is an intimate and dedicated shrine to the glory years of transatlantic musical heroes.

The evening was divided into two sets, largely taken from ‘Daydreamers’, the upcoming album the songbirds have scheduled for an August release. Watching Marla with her tambourine strapped to her foot trading bright melodies and introspective lyrics with David on tracks like ‘Tower Of Mine‘ transformed the audience to another place, another time. Close your eyes and you could be sitting on a rocking chair on a 70s Laurel Canyon porch. Introducing ‘Marais‘, Marla explained how during a confusing time she found herself at Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris and visited the famous whisky bar of the song. “Shoulda tried kung fu, love” came the slightly confusing heckle from the bar.  She responded that it was “too late for that, hun”, proving she had overcome her initial shyness to deal with the bawdy west country agitators with growing confidence. She then sang the song completely in French which of course, might as well have been Klingon here but was elegant to the ear nonetheless.

Like any live show, there were highlights. The majestic ‘Cactus‘, where the harmonies that those in the know had been expounding earlier really came to the fore and it became clear that this was a partnership that had an instinctive understanding as well as talent in common. ‘Don’t Keep It All Inside‘ displayed the unique brand of David Celia humour which sits nicely alongside Marla’s more sedate demeanor. ‘Luddite Blues‘ was definitely up there, an upbeat chug-a-long during which those harmonies transferred to the guitars and created a moment of near-perfection – Crosby, Stills and Nash became one man and one woman for the duration. David’s solo offering ‘The Wind‘ was a tribute to Jimi Hendrix which sounded more like Jimmy Page with hints of John Martyn – yes he can play an acoustic guitar.

The calling out had ceased a while ago, David Celia and Marla had conquered this hard-to-please crowd, which incidentally had filled out considerably over the course of the evening. Marla rejoined the stage after a small break and the understanding between the two became clearer still as they worked The Bell into the palms of their hands. ‘Life Is A Dream‘ went down particularly well and they adjusted the set list to suit the mood; upbeat tunes like ‘Thin Disguise‘ followed by Buffalo Springfield’s ‘Burned’. They signed off with another new song ‘Carry It On‘, dedicated to Pete Seeger and we all thought that was that – what could’ve been a struggle had been saved by sound gig management and good songs. But David had saved his best trick until last. He called up a member of the audience, a local fella by the name of Charlie – well known to many. They all performed a rousing rendition of Charlie’s self-penned singalong ‘Give Me A Little Of Your Time‘.

David Celia and Marla play a lot of gigs. Stagecraft is a trade to be learned, practised and mastered like any other and tonight was a perfect example of that, not to mention an interesting preview into a promising union.

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