Tonight is Ms Coulstock’s first headliner, and it’s sold out. Her website shows a medley of highly laudatory recommendations from respected musicians, major festival heads and BBC Radio presenters and all single out her musicianship, singing ability, onstage presence and overall positivity. Having seen her previously supporting Hannah Aldridge at Putney’s Half Moon, your reviewer can happily endorse these views. And of course, it all stands out that bit more given her youth, she’s only 21. Anyone who has done a Bob Harris session at the age of 13 is either worth checking out or it’s Jimmy Osmond having wandered down the wrong corridor.
Her CV shows a gradual building up of live gigs and compulsory education was in the mix in her fledgling years. Her Music and English teachers clearly had something right and she commands the stage with an affable confidence that is always well short of arrogance.
She plays a 15-song set, nice and light on the between song banter but enough to provide context. Clearly by her very early teens her heart and mind were already set on a country/country rock musical career and so the songs have flowed ever since. It’s easy to question the authenticity of the Southern USA references from someone who has been almost entirely Kent based so far, but if a song is a fictitious narrative then that’s what the songwriter’s imagination is for. Not everyone who sings a murder ballad has the first hand lived experience, after all. There’s maybe a shared trajectory with early Ward Thomas, soaking up the Americana influences remotely in middle England and indeed new song ‘Your Kiss’ has a musical similarity to that duet’s early material. The mid-teen songs include ‘Outlaw’, a coursework item for her GCSE music which opens with “I killed my first man when I was sixteen,” and with guns, bounty hunters and the jailhouse in the lyric, it’s no surprise that she later mentions the inspiration of Johnny Cash. Meanwhile, ‘Living in a Country Song’ came to her whilst her mind wandered during a Physics exam.
She is primarily on guitar, but plays a handful of songs on piano. The set is further enriched when she is joined onstage by Chas Jankel (ex Blockhead), whose lead guitar polish makes ‘The Road’ a standout as the two guitarists spark off each other compellingly. An earlier solo highlight is ‘Riverside’, one of the more thought provoking lyrics of the night, in which the spirits of individuals who have shared a place, the titular riverside, later collectively reunite to pool their experience. The vocals do the heavy lifting on this song with great effect. ‘Who do you think you are?’ has her back at the piano for a slick power ballad. The encore is a Pablo Ettinger co-write (the Caffé Nero founder is a musician outside of the boardroom!), its big chords deployed as she sings out anthemically the call of impassioned youth. An appropriate sign off.
Without wanting to over-trumpet her prowess so soon, the sort of touchstones that came to mind were the belting voice of Brandi Carlile, the fine melodies of Shawn Colvin, the Southern bar room bant of Sunny Sweeney and the onstage command of the aforementioned Ms Aldridge.
Support comes from the blues-soaked solo acoustic set from Joe Slater. With Liverpudlian roots, he is a poignant stirring vocalist with a lived in voice and has Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe on his performing CV. He’s a classy guitarist and his songs have punchy melodies. He covers a range of narratives of relationship to-ings and fro-ings. He fills a similar musical space as Ray LaMontagne and a cover of Ray Charles’ ‘You don’t know me’, is indicative of his influences. He riffs away to extend the song in compelling manner then jokes about how going out to see roots music is “A dying breed. Not many people do it. I don’t do it “. Next up is ‘To The Creator’ another strong song which addresses the weighty matter of the title. He moves on to ‘I’ll be the light’, a lovely ballad where he showcases his voice with a couple of acapella choruses.