Live music, especially in small venues, is going through a tough time at the moment. Spiralling energy costs and rapid inflation are hitting the pockets of venues and punters alike and it’s only likely to get worse in the coming months. So, if ever a reminder was needed of the sheer joy of enjoying great music, up close in an intimate venue, was needed, it is now. Luckily, Canadian country singer Whitney Rose was on hand in Manchester to do just that.
The show was originally scheduled for Gullivers, a popular and well used music venue in the city but was switched to the more intimate surroundings of the Rose and Monkey, presumably because of disappointing ticket sales. That is not in any way a reflection on the quality or standing of Whitney Rose as an artist, but more an underlining of the present difficult circumstances. The switch did, however, elicit a moment of humour when Rose revealed that her husband, who was accompanying her, was “quite hairy” and that the ‘Rose and Monkey’ venue name had been the source of a running joke between them all day.
Beginning the evening the imposing, long-haired, bearded and tattooed figure of Mike West from “The end of the M53”, played a rousing set of originals which revealed him to be a songwriter of genuine quality. His song explanations and general stage banter were full of wit and humour which further endeared him to an already receptive audience. His explanation of his journey from heavy metal to country music was fascinating despite, as he joked, his attire having not yet made the same journey. By the end he even had the crowd clapping along, which is always a confirmed seal of approval.
Despite, its smallness, Whitney Rose seemed genuinely pleased to be playing in “the kind of place I’ve only really come across before in literature’. She was in fine voice too, the clarity of which owed a considerable debt to the excellent work of the venue’s sound man. Rose has also assembled a superb band with the well-honed rhythm section of Lisa Pankratz on drums and Brad Fordham on bass, the pair having previously seen in the city playing with Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Noel McKay, an excellent songwriter in his own right, played beautifully textured guitar and also sang ‘Open All Night’ from his highly recommended ‘Blue Blue Blue’ album.
Whitney Rose’s set was assembled largely from her last two albums ‘Rule 62’ and ‘We Still Go to Rodeos’ but also previewed three songs from her forthcoming new album. Gliding effortlessly through her songs, Whitney Rose displayed a captivating stage presence, pausing periodically to relay a story or to share a thought. Every song sounded both polished but yet fresh. By the time she reached ‘Three Minute Love Affair’ from her ‘South Texas Suite’ EP, six songs in, everyone in the room was beaming – could we really be witnessing such an assured and acclaimed artist in a small pub in Manchester’s Northern Quarter? Yes, we actually were, and loving every minute of it.
The evening continued with Rose delivering splendid mid-set renditions of ‘You Don’t Scare Me’, ‘Time to Cry’ and ‘I Don’t Want Half (I Just Want Out) and wound up with with ‘In a Rut’ before Rose then returned to encore with a spirited version of the Everly Brothers’ ‘When Will I Be Loved’. Despite the modest crowd in a small venue, Whitney Rose put on a memorable show which is hugely to her credit. However, as venue costs rise and customers continue to feel the financial pinch, you can’t help wondering for how long it will be viable to bring artists across from America and elsewhere to appear in small venues. The only way that we can ensure that there is a future for small gigs is to support them. When financial sacrifices have to be made just to feed yourself and your family or to heat your house, it’s understandable that gig-going is not going to take priority. But more than ever, go if you can, but also put pressure on the Government to support the live music industry and to support its citizens by freezing energy prices. Music is not a life and death issue, but it is a huge part of the lives of AUK readers. We can’t just stand by and watch it slip away.