The schedule of a touring musician is a thing of mystery at times. Here we find Kelly Sloan, one of what seems to be a never-ending stream of talented singer-songwriters emanating from Canada, playing to a rapt audience at the wonderfully welcoming and intimate setting of The Bellows at The Wheelwright Arms in Colyford, East Devon (population 550). The next steps on her tour; Milan and various stops around Italy, Sicily, Switzerland and Luxembourg. Credit for how Colyford became a part of that itinerary is down to establishment hosts Mark Newton and Kirstin Reynolds who, judging by the posters of past and future headliners adorning the walls, have an irresistible lure to the discerning musician.
As an idea of what sort of intimate venue we are talking about here, it has to be reported that Kelly’s opening number To The Water, was played with the doors to the pub open to entice those punters in who had bought tickets but were employing a tardy attitude when it came to finishing their dinner. It worked!
With one recent album (Big Deal) to promote, much of this set comprised a mix of new songs mixed with covers of older tracks from the likes of The Velvet Underground, Donovan, Neil Young, Big Star and Carole King. Accompanied by long term collaborator and ‘musical husband’, Curtis Chaffey, this was a stripped back performance which allowed Kelly’s sublime vocals to come to the fore. Although vocally Curtis kept mainly in the background, his acoustic guitar work was, at times, highly intricate and was showcased particularly on Waiting, taken from Kelly’s 2008 debut Always Changes.
If Kelly’s music has influences across the wide spectrum of country, folk, blues and jazz (there was even a hint of waltz in here tonight) then some of the song writing has its origins in the most unlikely of settings. If song writers are inspired by their own personal experiences then the inspiration for Tracers was the house breaking raccoons that seem to run amok in Kelly’s little bit of the Canadian wilds. These little interjections inbetween songs brought a witty, self-effacing honesty to proceedings and made for a gig where the audience were very much made to feel part of it.
Made of Wood, a beautiful track from the Big Deal album was a personal highlight in a set full of them. Kelly’s own songs more than hold their own but her interpretations of some old classics were bordering on stunning. Thirteen, originally recorded in 1972 by Big Star, Neil Young’s One of These Days and the set climax, Carole King’s Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow were pitch perfect advertisements for Impressions, Kelly’s upcoming album of covers.
The only negative was the sparse attendance. While not a name that will be known to many this side of the pond Kelly Sloan deserves a bigger audience than this so, fingers crossed, her European travels will raise her profile. The south west outback that is Dorset, Devon and Cornwall can appear like a musical desert at times so venues such as the Wheelwright Arms deserve to be supported better than this.