Artist: Stephen Fretwell
Date: February 20, 2007
Opening Act: Kate Walsh
Venue: RNCM (Royal Northern College of Music)
Review by [David Adair]
OK, so a female songwriter toeing a line between Joan Baez, Sarah Vaughan and Beth Orton, singing about past boyfriends and romantic happenings is music’s equivalent to a reality T.V. given the number of people at it. Brighton’s Kate Walsh apparently hasn’t had her TV plugged in since last July and doesn’t own an iPod. This idealistic Luddite deserves some respect for approaching the daunting task of performing an intimate acoustic set, in a setting that is perfect for brass bands with humility, littering the songs with feeling and sincerity.
The elementary nature of the music on display, Kate’s mystical gazes and the lullaby nature of a good share of the material, draws a scattered crowd into the haven of humbleness and reflection. For ‘Tonight’, the vocals become drawn out like Tony Blair’s departure as PM and the instrumental tingle underlines the life and relationship musing. The even tempo is disturbed for the heartstring tugging finale ‘Don’t Break My Heart’, with the guitar loops getting fatter and the vocal projection appears deeper. This is certainly the foundation for a full on pop-song, all it needs is the help of a skipping drumbeat and stroking bass lines. Kate’s unassuming and thoughtful nature creosotes her crisp, if a little one paced and common place material.
There is a novel way of breaking down the intimate wall of expectation and pressure, surrounding the stripping down of your bold and masterful musical coat to its acoustic undies. By entering the stage immediately after a brief set of wacky and dramatically performed, pastoral poetry from Carol Batten. Fretwell cuts a proud and earnest figure in the spotlight, as ‘William Shatner’s Dog’ instigates the doleful reflection and dawdling vocal stance that creates a laid back atmosphere to the sombre poetic pitch. This builds from a hollow and rumbling intro strikingly similar to that found on The White Stripes’ offering ‘Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground’. The anthemic ‘Run’ is paraded in a rugged light that bears out the troublesome and longing nature of the song, something that usually hides behind its catching and colourful accompanying stroll. It’s not long before the crowd realises their part in proceedings and fun, frivolous banter entertains while Fretwell wrestles with a few technical gremlins, between songs.
What makes this set special is the fact that new numbers like the hollow and haunting ‘Bumper Cars’, are displayed at their first stage and this number in particular, will probably turn into a bold and strutting emotive burner come the release of forthcoming 3rd album. Some Bruce Springsteen skirting through ‘San Francisco Blues’, has gatherers nodding like the dog from the Churchill adverts. ‘Emily’ retains its potency, as the momentum builds nicely into the defiant ‘New York’ to bring familiarity to the fore. The humble Scunthorpe born and Manchester based songster is flanked by a guitarist for the encore, breathing the life required into covers of Elaine Page’s ‘Love Hurts’ and the Chilton Price penned ‘You Belong To Me’. This enables everyone present to leave with a sizeable impression as to this genuine guy’s current mood and thought processes. Mental notes are being made to look out for the looming 3rd album.