The intimate Green Note remains the beating heart of London’s acoustic roots music scene, always promoting an eclectic mix of musical genres and able to attract the very best musicians from around the world, many returning year after year to grace its cozy stage. Tonight saw a talented double bill of Nashville based Mean Mary and London’s homegrown Rebecca Hollweg draw an enthusiastic crowd to the Camden venue. The third time now that this gifted pair have played this unique London stage together.
First to entertain the expectant crowd was Battersea based Rebecca Hollweg ably supported by her electric bass playing husband Andy Hamill. Together they immediately radiated a wonderfully warm sense of enthusiasm for the evening ahead but . . . how to categorize Rebecca? Not quite Americana, not quite folk, not quite pop, perhaps a fusion of all three but most certainly a fully accredited member of the story-telling singer/songwriter club. I was instantly struck by the purity of her vocals and the imagery contained within her lyrics – think Jill Sobule but grounded in London and Somerset. The opening song, ‘Love Me Back’ saw husband & wife sharing the same acoustic guitar as Andy played the occasional bass line whilst Rebecca strummed through this lovely laid-back funky tune, a novel and enjoyable way to start the evening. ‘June Babies’ from Hollweg’s 2001 debut album followed before a dedication to her daughter, who was present in the audience, introduced ‘Ruby’, a heartfelt song that perhaps only a parent could write. Next came the title track from the most recent album, ‘Country Girl’, which is rooted in her days spent growing up in Somerset where she first started to explore songwriting. It’s our gain that she did so because the imagery contained within the songs is something that everybody can find a connection with. Heartwarming and beautifully delivered, the remainder of her set was enthusiastically received by the Green Note audience. Not Americana, not folk, not pop, but most definitely top quality.
The second set saw multi-instrumentalist Mean Mary take the stage with her 12 string acoustic guitar backing musician and brother Frank; definitely a family theme running through the evening. Mean Mary is anything but mean, a somewhat unfortunate legacy of a song titled ‘Mean Mary from Alabama’ that she wrote aged five! Her stage demeanor is full of joy and enthusiasm, an infectious exuberance for the most definitely Americana music that she plays. The first half of her set saw her playing banjo as she and brother Frank swapped friendly sibling jibes, they were clearly enjoying their time on stage together. Now, the banjo is a peculiar instrument, surely the violin equivalent in the Americana orchestra; in the hands of a novice, it can seem discordant and clunky but in the hands of a virtuoso, it soars to become a joyous instrument where tunes dance lightly from the fretboard. And what a virtuoso Mary is, her hands a blur as she teased self-penned and standard songs from the instrument. Opening with ‘Sugar Creek Mountain Rush’ the banjo, foot percussion and 12 string guitar backing created a wonderfully full sound. Bluegrass tune ‘Foggy Mountain Breakdown’ demonstrated her blazing banjo skills and was followed by the soulful ‘I’ve Been Down’ from the 2006 album ‘Thank You Very Much’. There was opportunity for audience participation during her only ‘barn’ themed song as some very English sounding geese hissed rather than honked like their American cousins. The banjo wizardry ended on ‘Iron Horse’, a song that Mary co-wrote with her mother and which evoked perfectly a sense of lost loves leaving on trains crossing the American plains. A multi-instrumentalist, Mary then played fiddle for a ‘Virginia Reel Medley’ before concluding the set on her own playing guitar during ‘Sweet Jezebel’. She is a rare talent, deserving of your attention the next time that she graces these shores.
The enthusiastic Green Note applause ensured an encore that saw all four musicians back on stage, Rebecca and husband Andy together with Mary and her brother Frank. It should perhaps have been a version of Sly Stone’s ‘Family Affair’ but instead John Denver’s sing-a-long ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’ left the audience more than happy. A wonderful evening of songs delivered with great passion and full of heart by four musicians who clearly loved sharing their considerable talents just as much as the audience enjoyed hearing them.