Live Review: The 7 Hills Songwriters Festival, Assembly Rooms Bath, 16th March 2024

The Assembly Rooms in Bath were the heart of fashionable society in 18th Century Bath. The Octagon Room, home to the main event today, gets a mention in Jane Austen and Charles Dickens and is one of the most visually stunning venues you could hope for. 7 Hills Festival organiser Matt Owens had tried the songwriting circle format out at his 2022 Americana Fest and bringing it back for a day to celebrate songwriting was clearly a good move.

The Electric Bear stage, sponsored by a local brewery, featured up and coming acts, and kicked off the music with Courting Ghosts, a local indie pop/folk 4 piece, booked by Owens as he liked their work ethic. This stage also brought a selection of artists to watch, with a couple of very promising acts given the chance to showcase their music.

photo Ken Abbott

The first grouping on the man stage were local Frome based singers Izzie Yardley and Danny Green, who trades as DG Solaris, along with Sam Brookes, highlighting songs from his new band project Supalung. Taking turns to play, the echo drenched octagonal space made hearing the between song talk a little difficult but the music came over just fine once the sound engineer stopped fiddling with his controls. Yardley’s ‘Imposter’ EP was a 2023 highlight and this afternoon ‘She Rose’ and ‘The Reckoner’ were the pick of offerings. Green and Yardley joined in with a couple of each other songs filling out the choruses.

Green’s own songs, mostly new to me, were delivered in his dark considered voice. His EP ‘Crashing in the Waves’ was the source of some of his tunes, and like Yardley and Brookes, he tried out a new song and a cover – in his case The Roches ‘Runs in the Family’ while Yardley took on Nick Drake and Brookes tackled Joni Mitchell’s ‘Case Of You.’  Brookes’ contributions, played on electric guitar, an instrument that suffered from the room’s acoustics all night, but his voice, reminiscent of Tim Buckley, soared around the dome, with the month-old song ‘Where is My Love’ his best.

photo Ken Abbott

The second grouping took some time to arrange on the stage as there were now 9 musicians where there had been 3. Our Man In The Field, Al Ellis had brought Henry Senior on Dobro and Maddy Cundall on Cello, Matt Owens was accompanied by drum, double bass and occasional piano and guitar from members of his Delusional Vanity Project, while Louis Brennan and Freddie & The Scenarios, the new project from The Vaccines’ lead guitarist Freddie Cowan, were solo. Brennan’s Leonard Cohen-like voice resonated on ‘Cruel Britannia’ and a tale of Brendan The Navigator. Cowan’s electric guitar suffered as Brookes had, but his song ‘Self Pity City’ suggests that this will be a project to watch as it develops.

Matt Owen’s songs were played with his usual drive and commitment. He’s an artist who never gives less than 100%, and he brought up Kieron Marshall up to repeat his soaring solo on ‘Darkness’ and Hannah White for a brilliant version of ‘5 Years Into Marriage.’ Our Man In The Field were new to many in the audience, and judging by the queue at the merchandise stall later on, a hit. They played ‘Go Easy’ from recent album ‘Gold On The Horizon’ and a new song ‘Smoke In The Wind.’ Most valuable player of this round of songs was Maddy Cundall who contributed to songs from Owens and Brennan as well as her own band. Henry Senior added flashes of dobro throughout as well. Highlight of this set was early Our Man In The Field song ‘Thin’ with Jimmy Besley adding a delicate drumbeat to Ellis and Cundall’s voices.

photo Ken Abbott

Elles Bailey led the next set of songwriters, accompanied by guitarist Joe Wilkins, with Demi Marriner and Liam Cromby joining her songs as well as playing their own. Bailey shared some of the making of her new album. ‘Ballad of a Broken Dream’ and ‘Walk Away’ were her highlights, as well as Matt Owens joining in for an extended guitar jam with Wilkins on ‘Sunshine City.’ Marriner, a more country styled singer, has some fine songs including ‘Sins’ and ‘Litle Boy.’

The revelation of this grouping was Liam Cromby. His emotive songs, many drawn from album ‘What Can I Trust, If I Can’t Trust True Love,’ including a great rendition of the title track. The former frontman of We Are The Ocean seems to have found a new direction, and one that on tonight’s showing will win him many new fans. With darkness falling the lighting in the room had started to bring a warm glow that was reflected by the audience’s appreciation of this set. Less spontaneous than earlier ones maybe, but polished and professional, and bringing an insight into the way an established performer sets about songwriting.

photo Ken Abbott

Bristol folk duo Hushwing, who came across as an acoustic Cocteau Twins closed the Electric Bear Stage and overlapped with the start of the final set. Robert Vincent, Michele Stodart, and Hannah White, accompanied by husband Kieron Marshall, were the clear headline acts. Vincent succumbed to the joke everyone had been thinking about all day with an Only Fools and Horses reference to the elegant chandelier hanging above them. There was more discussion of the songs, although again the talk was quite hard to pick out in the echoing room. White talked about her background as a prelude to ‘Nobody Minds,’ Stodart introduced a song about her daughter, ‘Push and Pull,’ and Vincent offered his usual impeccable guitar and harmonica. Joined by Matt Owens once again White had the assembled group unplug for a strident blues, which was one of the highlights of the whole day.

photo Ken Abbott

The tone of this grouping reflected that of the day. Songwriters at the top of their game joining together to celebrate their craft with their peers. The supportive atmosphere of the day with artists listening to each other and sharing tips to overcome the difficulties the room presented for singers was a clear message about the health of the music scene in the UK and its collaborative and encouraging nature. Many artists brought new songs that are the equal of their best recorded work, and while walking round the bar area you could almost feel new collaborations and friendships being formed.

Matt Owens has once again curated a festival featuring some of the best songwriters currently working. Having produced superb events three years in a row he has established himself as one of the key movers and shakers in the grass roots music scene. Long may he continue.

About Tim Martin 242 Articles
Sat in my shed listening to music, and writing about some of it. Occasionally allowed out to attend gigs.
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