Features Editor Clint West writes: Last week we intoduced ‘The Other Side of Me’ as the first of two new features that would alternate each week on Tuesdays. Today we present the second of those new features which we have called ‘Small Venue Heroes’. We wanted to give a nod of appreciation to those current artists, who whilst not big stars, are the backbone and the lifeblood of Americana music. For many a night out at a cosy and intimate small venue, being entertained by an accomplished performer whose musical integrity is more important than commercial success (although I guess most could do with a bit of that too!), is the best way to enjoy live music. These are the great artists, who far from being arena megastars, often struggle to eke out a living from their music. We all have our favourites and each week an UK writer will offer you theirs. My thanks to Emily Dongry for kickstarting the series with an appreciation of folk singer Odette Michell.
I was at Cambridge Folk Festival many years ago. It was late enough that my festival cider was now a rum and coke and I was looking around for a light (remember tobacco?) when my companion shouts “Det!”. A fresh country face beamed, and I met a genuinely underrated gem of the fens, a true ‘Small Venue Hero’.
Odette Michell is from as far into the fens as you can go before coming out again. Being born to parents from the Emerald Isle and the Yorkshire Dales has blessed her with a unique folk background. She picked up the guitar when she was 15, but her real love is the bouzouki. The night we met, she disappeared into the crowd and up to the front of the stage just to get a closer look at an artist playing her favoured instrument; the joy in her eyes and life is real. She has played the Cambridge Folk Festival herself many times, the first being at only 22!
Michell’s career took off after her first EP ‘By Way of Night‘ in 2018. Her debut album, ‘The Wildest Rose‘ came out in April 2019 and led to her winning Female Artist Of The Year at the FATEA Awards. She has gigged unrelentingly since, even online during the pandemic. Her website boasts 220 live shows since she began touring in 2018! And the gigs aren’t all repeated places either with shows as far-flung as Freiburg and Ibiza. She’s played pool halls, cafes, bars, festivals, and every folk club from Bridport to Inverness. She has supported Martin Carthy, Reg Meuross, Phil Beer and Boo Hewerdine, and played alongside Show of Hands and Seth Lakeman. She’s certainly a relentless folk performer, but more than that, she’s a great singer-songwriter. After nearly three decades of guitar playing and significant experience, her shows are warm, her playing is excellent, and she clearly has a great passion for performing music. See for yourself.