Turn off the lights, unplug the speakers, and welcome to the woodchip stage one of the finest flatpicking guitarists on the Americana scene today – Eli West. On a cool and breezy evening in a secluded corner of Islington, North London, the Lumpy Hills Adventure Playground took the award for the coolest named music venue anywhere in the capital city. Just off the busy Caledonian Road this creative space of rope-swings and wooden climbing frames hosted the Friday evening Nest Collective Campfire Club session.
Those attending huddled around a smoky firepit as the embers glowed red, perched on park benches and hessian mats waiting eagerly for the Seattle troubadour to grace the improvised stage. The organisers need to be congratulated for their eclectic summer programme of niche musical styles in unique venues across the city. Anybody brave enough to strip a performance of its lights and sound-system and then expose it to the unpredictable British weather and the background noises of the city setting deserves the support of London music lovers.
Eli West first came to the attention of the UK Americana audience when touring with Cahalen Morrison as an admired duo performing largely original songs in a traditional country/bluegrass style. Now on the road as a solo artist and building a fine repertoire of self-penned songs Eli West is one of the most respected musicians on today’s circuit. His well received début album ‘The Both’ saw him displaying his considerable skills on electric and acoustic guitar, banjo and pedal steel guitar during recordings with musical friends and personal heroes.
Tonight Eli took to the unorthodox woodchip stage initially as a solo artist and quickly charmed the audience with a selection of old favourites, new songs and recognisable standards delivered in his trademark laid-back manner. Songs of life and death, love and heartbreak; each tune wrapped carefully in some beautifully skilful flatpicking acoustic guitar playing. Half way through the set Eli was joined by British old time fiddle champion Kieran Towers and together they blazed a path through foot-tapping old time string tunes that warmed this chilly corner of Islington. There were times when some amplification would have helped the audience appreciation of the skill on display and a time when a discreetly pointed torch would have rescued the duo from fading into the shadows; but there was never a time when the performance disappointed or the understated improvised style of this campfire session failed to delight.
Eli West, Kieran Towers and the Nest Collective should be congratulated for delivering highly skilful Americana in such an adventurous and unorthodox way – it was a unique experience!