Live Review: Charlie Dore, Ropery Hall, Barton Upon Humber – 21st March 2024

photo : Greame Tait

Ropery Hall, Barton Upon Humber, sits beneath the shadow of the imposing single expansion bridge that spans the Humber estuary, separating East Yorkshire from North Lincolnshire. The hall itself is now part of the regionally acclaimed centre for the arts, housing, amongst other delights, galleries, sculptured gardens, a theatre, cinema and of course a live venue with a capacity of approximately 120, all enclosed within the former rope factory and now Grade II listed building.

This evening’s performance saw a return to the venue from one of this country’s finest singer-songwriters Charlie Dore, who shot to fame in the early eighties when her single ‘Pilot Of The Airways’, taken from her debut album ‘Where To Now’, and released on Chris Blackwell’s Islands Record label reach the dizzying heights of No. 13 on the ‘U.S. Billboard Hot 100’. Her follow-up album was less commercially successful and the following ten years would see Dore shift her focus to her other passion of acting, having originally studied drama at the Arts Educational School in London, going on to star in numerous film and TV roles including Richard Eyre’s acclaimed film ‘The Ploughman’s Lunch’. It was during those early days at drama school that Dore first met Julian Littman who for the following fifty years has been, as he is this evening, at her side. As a guitarist extraordinaire and multi-instrumentalist Littman splits his time between solo projects, resident guitarist for folk-rock legends Steeleye Span (a position he has held for the last fourteen years) and being Dore’s musical collaborator, foil, and partner.

Acting may have kept Dore’s name in the public domain during this period but songs were still being written including ‘Strut’, a co-write with Littman that reached No. 7 in the U.S. charts for Sheena Easton, while a co-write with fellow thespian Jimmy Nail, ‘Ain’t No Doubt’, would peak at No. 1 in the UK charts. Buoyed by further success with songs recorded by such luminaries as Tina Turner, George Harrison and Paul Carrick, Dore would eventually return to the recording studio in 1995, and has to date recorded another eight studio albums, the most recent being ‘Like Animals’ (2020).

Charlie Dore, live at Ropery Hall, Barton Upon Humber. 21st March 2024
photo: Graeme Tait

The first half on the evening’s performance offered up a fine selection of songs spanning the last twenty years, opening with the first track, ‘Collateral’  from Dore’s most recent album, a song written during lockdown and inspired by the one time advisor to the government Dominic Cummings. With Cummings’ undignified departure from his role, Dore admitted a certain level of anxiety that the song, full of sharp observation and barbed wit, may have lost its relevance only to be swiftly reassured by the behaviour of many of his successors. In truth, over her seven albums her songwriting has continuously displayed a sagacious lyrical narrative capturing everyday people going about their everyday lives, their trials and tribulations, all gathered together by a poet with the keenest of eyes. Somewhat surprisingly there would be only the one track from Dore’s most recent album throughout the show, but that did allow for a host of gems from her back catalogue such as ‘Lion Tamer’, a somewhat scornful look back to the heyday of the circus, whilst ‘Looking Like My Mother, Acting Like My Dad’ turned the spotlight on parental genes with a wry sense of humour that is often to be found lurking within the meters and the prose of her writing.

For most of the first set Dore and Littman stood side by side, acoustic guitars in hand, interweaving melodies with a rhythmic pulse and colourful lines while vocally, Littman supplied the perfect harmony to Dore’s lead. Guitars were regularly changed and re-tuned, Dore even finding the opportunity to dig out her old Ovation guitar purchased over fifty years ago, and though the electrics had ceased to work, acoustically it still sounded great. A wonderful rendition of ‘Refuse To Dance’, a song recorded by Celine Dion, allowed Dore a seat at the piano whilst both she and Littman would regularly take turns on the Indian Harmonium that sonically added both depth and ambience to the arrangements. The closing number of the first set introduced the audience to the only previously unrecorded number of the night entitled ‘Is Anybody There’ that narratively encompasses many of Dore’s familiar lyrical traits.

Charlie Dore, live at Ropery Hall, Barton Upon Humber. 21st March 2024.
photo: Graeme Tait

The second set commenced with a trip down memory lane as Dore and Littman recalled their formative years performing at the ‘Pancake House’ on Westbourne Grove in the Notting Hill area of the capital. It was here that they served their musical apprenticeship, performing songs by the legends of country music such as Jimmie Rodgers, and Hank Williams, playing bluegrass, western swing and hillbilly music long into the night, gradually adding musicians that would eventually morph into the Hula Valley Band. Fast forward in excess of thirty years and Dore would release the album ‘The Hula Valley Songbook’, where she revisited many of those classic numbers, and from that collection she treated the audience tonight to a wonderful rendition of Rodgers’ ‘Treasures Untold’.

Five of the evening’s set list first appeared on Dore’s 2017 album ‘Dark Matter’, with songs such as ‘Breakfast In Nutrinos’ and ‘Dennis and Rose’ with its audience participation chorus both gracing the second half of the performance.  As during the first set, instruments continued to be swapped and changed with ‘Cheepskate Lullabyes’, the title track from her 2011 album, seeing Dore on the ukulele while Littman’s slide guitar offered an americana flavour to a song whose structure is steeped in old English Music Hall while ‘Ordinary Names’, from the album of the same name sees guitars momentarily abandoned in favour of piano and Indian Harmonium.

Throughout the performance the interaction and banter on stage is, as expected after almost fifty years, warm and assured with the sort of telepathic communication that only comes after working together for such a length of time, each managing to finish the others sentences as if they it were their own.

Unsurprisingly the evening’s performance concludes with ‘Pilot Of The Airways’, sounding as fresh as it did back when it first filled the airwaves with its infectious chorus over forty years ago and which, going by the enthusiastic vocal contribution from the audience, was clearly a song they were all still very much familiar with. Needless to say an encore was boisterously called for with Dore and Littman returning to the stage to deliver another crowd favourite in the award winning ‘Looking For My Own Lone Ranger’, a co-write with Deacon Blue’s Rocky Ross that proves a fitting finale to a truly fabulous evening and a reminder if one should be needed that Charlie Dore is one of this country’s finest songwriters and one might even go as far as to say a ‘National Treasure’.

Charlie Dore, live at Ropery Hall, Barton Upon Humber. 21st March 2024.
photo: Graeme Tait


About Graeme Tait 110 Articles
Hi. I'm Graeme, a child of the sixties, eldest of three, born into a Forces family. Keen guitar player since my teens, (amateur level only), I have a wide, eclectic taste in music and an album collection that exceeds 5.000. Currently reside in the beautiful city of Lincoln.
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