Whatever happened to Noah & The Whale? Well, I am not sure about the rest of the band, but I can let readers know what original member and bass guitarist, Matt Owens, is currently up to. He is mounting a campaign to establish Bath and environs as the musical capital of England!
The pattering of foundling steps of this campaign could be heard at The Komedia, Bath on Sunday, March 19 where Matt and his team put on a one-day Americana festival (The Seven Hills Spring Festival) featuring mainly artists and bands from Bath and the surrounding area, but also a few artists from further afield who are well known to AUK readers.
Given that there were three different performing stages: an in-the-round – set up in the front bar/foyer area, then the Main Stage and also an impromptu area set up on the floor of the main stage, it was impossible for me to catch every act that was playing. What follows, however, are the highlights of a really wonderful day of music.
The afternoon began with a couple of acoustic acts in the foyer of the venue featuring turns by Robert Vincent and Phil King. A couple of strong songs from both. Some of Phil’s songs reminding this writer of Loudon Wainwright. I felt it was quite brave to have artists performing in this particular area, competing as they were with people arriving, customers being served at the adjacent bar and noise spill as punters entered and left the main arena.
First up in the main arena were the sensational Hannah White band. For me, they were the highlight of last year’s Black Deer festival, and they were equally as good when they played in Hackney during January’s AMAUK Showcase Festival. Like all great Americana artists Hannah refuses to be pigeon-holed. Flitting between blues-tinged songs to guitar driven neo-country, she and her band cast a hypnotic spell on the audience. I am not sure if it was the nostalgia of me being in Bath for a music event for the first time since my hippy days of 1969/70, but Hannah reminded me of a young Joan Baez as she introduced the award-winning song ‘Car Crash’. What followed was another tour-de-force by her and her band.
Hannah was followed on stage by a new band to this writer – Ida Mae. Featuring mainly guitarist, Christ Turpin and his wife and vocalist Stephanie Jean. Ida Mae highlighted once more the disparate sounds that we Americana fans have come to cherish and love. This was a very country blues-orientated set with both Chris and Stephanie swapping the vocal lead.
There followed a slick change over, where seated members of the audience merely had to swivel in their chairs to see the next band, who were playing on the venue floor itself. Playing there were The Delusional Vanity Project. Featuring the aforementioned Matt Owens as lead singer, they played a gritty, no-nonsense set consisting mainly of songs from Matt’s latest album ‘Beer For The Horses’. As well as the title track, they played ‘Strip It Back’, ‘Hungover In New York’ and a blistering ‘Cargo For The Road’. Great to see ex Danny & The Champs keyboard player, Geoff Widdowson, as well as Duncan Kingston on bass, Jim Besley on drums, James Jack on guitar and a one song burst from Samuel Taylor on banjo. Again, comparisons can be subjective but for me, there was a Joe Ely vibe to the style and the sound that they produced.
Another turn around in our chairs to greet on to the stage the wonderful Beth Rowley. What an amazing set from this enchanting chanteuse. Beth and her tight band played a great set, interchanging strong ballads, a John Prine cover and absolutely belting version of a Willie Dixon song. An outstanding vocal performance.
Next to perform on the small ‘on the floor stage’ was the ubiquitous Robert Vincent. Accompanied on double bass by Danny Williams, Vincent played a faultless set of songs despite what can only be described as ‘noises aside.’
Lastly, but by no means least, performing on the Main Stage came Ethan John and his band, The Black-Eyed Dogs, who treated us to a tribute to The Grateful Dead. An opportunity for a somewhat over-indulgent trip (see what I did there?) through the band’s extensive repertoire. The highlight was a virtuoso performance of Tim Rose’s ‘Morning Dew’.
A great day, then. A top line-up. A Festival that I hope is here to stay, in a beautiful historic town and a super venue.