Live Review: The ARC Songwriters, featuring Kate Ellis, My Girl The River and Anna Howie, The Town Hall, Kirton in Lindsey – 2nd March 2024

Picture by Mark Dinnage

It may well have been the first Saturday in March, and the start of a new metrological season but the weather was anything but springlike as the bravest and most passionate of music lovers made their way to Lincolnshire’s Premier Americana Music Venue at the Town Hall, Kirton in Lindsey. The evening’s entertainment was delivered by three of the finest female singer songwriters currently residing on these shore, collectively known as The ARC Songwriters, and featuring Kate Ellis, Kris Wilkinson Hughes (a.k.a. My Girl The River) and Anna Howie. Together the trio would perform in the round, with a set consisting primarily of their own self penned songs, taking it in turn to sing lead or supply exquisite harmonies.

Howie, standing to the left of the stage from the audience’s prospective, got proceedings underway opening with ‘Acrobat’, the opening track from her most recent album ‘The Friday Night Club’, released in 2022. Hailing from the east end of London Howie is the only member of tonight’s trio born in the UK and has been working on the music scene for the last sixteen years garnering a reputation as an excellent singer songwriter, mixing reflective ballads with uptempo numbers full of infectious chorus lines. During the first set Howie would perform two more songs from her most recent album, ‘Angels Among Us’, written during covid and inspired by the incredible work carried out by the N.H.S. during this period, and the intriguingly titled ‘Peas’, that tells a humorous tale of unrequited advances.

The ARC Songwriters, live at the Town Hall, Kirton in Lindsey. 2nd March 2024.
photo: Mark Dinnage

Standing centre stage, Wilkinson Hughes is the leader of this trio, having been the original instigator in bringing these three songwriters together under the ARC Songwriters banner. the acronym of which stands for Americana, Roots, and Country, which comprehensively encompasses the trio’s musical landscape. Wilkinson Hughes normally works under the title of My Girl The River, another trio that comprises of her husband Joe and her daughter Rue. For this evening Rue’s presence is not required but Joe is in attendance, double bass in hand, helping to support and underpin each track, positioned  just behind the trio of singers who are each armed with their acoustic guitars. Alongside Joe at the back of the stage, playing all the intricate guitar lines is Andy Hobsbawm who, as well as being husband to Ellis is also the son of the renowned historian Eric Hobsbawm. Wilkinson Hughes played a track from each of My Girl The River’s  two most recent albums during the first set, starting with ‘Covington’, a song inspired by her birth home in Louisiana, followed later with the title track from their latest release ‘Cardinal In The Snow’ with reference to the redbird that is the mascot for the University of Louisville. A resident of these shores for over twenty years, the purity of her vocals are perfectly matched with the wisdom and maturity entwined within the lyrics of her songs.

The ARC Songwriters, live at the Town Hall, Kirton in Lindsey. 2nd March 2024.
photo: Mark Dinnage

Ellis, the third of the trio is, like Wilkinson Hughes, originally from Louisiana and has similarly made the UK her home. In recent years her albums have drawn high praise from all quarters, especially her most recent release ‘Spirals’ (2022), which received a much deserved 9/10 when reviewed in these pages. This album was the source for two of the three songs that saw Ellis take the spotlight, firstly with ‘Another Way’ inspired by the relationship with her father, and then ‘Blackbirds and Rye’, a song for her daughter. Her third offering would be the title track of previous album ‘Carve Me Out’, written shortly after the sudden passing of her mother. Here as well as in all Ellis’s compositions there is an ethereal beauty that embraces the private reflection of the narrative, exuding an honesty that connects immediately with the audience.

The ARC Songwriters, live at the Town Hall, Kirton in Lindsey. 2nd March 2024.
photo: Mark Dinnage

There was time for one cover version during the first half of the evening’s performance with a gorgeous rendition of the traditional tune ‘Down To The River To Pray’, a song which featured so prominently in the Coen Brothers film ‘O’Brother Where Art Thou’. It was here that the pristine harmonies of the trio were seen to greatest effect, effortlessly weaving around the simple but beautiful melody to create a spine tingling arrangement that left the audience in raptures.

After the obligatory interval where the audience had a chance to meet the artists and avail themselves from the merchandise stand, the second set got underway following the same format with each member of the trio taking their turn in spotlight. Ellis was first starting with ‘Night Before The Dawn’, that included some excellent harmonica from Wilkinson Hughes before, later in the set, returning with two songs from ‘Spirals’, with the song for nature ‘Wonderland’ and the equally amazing ‘The Story You’ve Been Told’. Wilkinson Hughes chose the second half of the evening’s performance to unveil two new songs, firstly the recent single ‘Information Highway’, a song that confronts the dark side of social media, mixing its seventies vibe with a modern day message, before hitting the audience with the brand new number ‘Helpless’. A song that returns to the theme of parental concern for teenage offspring during lockdown, this song is as powerful as it is heartbreaking, completely capturing the audience in its spell that by the time the final notes drifted from Wilkinson Hughes stunning vocal delivery there was barely a dry eye in the house. If this was an appetiser for the new album due out in a few months time then the summer can’t come quickly enough.

The ARC Songwriters, live at The Town Hall, Kirton in Lindsey. 2nd March 2024
photo: Mark Dinnage

Howie had also saved two of her best songs for the second set, both of which exemplified her craft for storytelling, using her own experiences and the characters she encounters to create a narrative that betrays the keenest poetic eye. ‘Sylvie Got Cash’, with its uptempo beat, is a perfect example, recalling a larger than life figure from her childhood whilst ‘Last Call At The Old Busker’s Inn’, recounts the tale of the once revered Stadium Inn, Nashville which now operates as a hostel for the homeless. In both instances Howie’s songs are the beneficiary of some wonderful vocal support from her colleagues which is a theme that has run throughout the evening’s performance. It would be so easy in these circumstances for each artist to work individually, simply recreating their work as they would usually do in a live setting whilst the remaining duo watch on as part of the audience. Instead, the night’s performance was all about unity and togetherness, thus helping to bring something new, occasionally with just the subtlest of touches, to each number.

Wilkinson Hughes would take the lead for the final two numbers, both from her most recent album, with ‘You Don’t Deserve My Tears’, quickly followed by ‘Hot Chicken’, complete with audience participation, before the encore saw Ellis lead the trio into a breathtaking rendition of John Prine’s ‘Speed Of The Sound Of Lonliness’, delivering the perfect finale to the perfect show.

About Graeme Tait 125 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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Alan Peatfield

Thanks Graeme. A review that perfectly captured the mood and tone of the evening …. and a shout out to promoter Brian Chudley who continues to hit the bullseye when booking such acts. Great stuff!