Emily Mae Winters is an artist who makes an impression from the first moment. She has a voice that immediately demands attention and mesmerises audiences, many of whom return time and again to her live shows. It is remarkable to think that the début EP "Foreign Waters" was released less than a year ago such has been her progress since than, as the host of award nominations testify.
April 2017 sees the release of the début album "Siren Serenade" launched at the Tea House Theatre, a Victoria former pub on the grounds of the old Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens as described in Thackery's "Vanity Fair". There is something appropriate about that, still having entertainment now in an area which has been associated with pleasure for so many years.
The Tea House Theatre itself is a rather splendid and quirky enterprise today, selling good quality food and home-made cakes along with a huge range of teas. They don't do coffee, which is so unusual the sign on the front door announcing it is assumed by many visitors to be a running gag, and the bar area is a table which only sells bottled beers; prices are usual for that part of London.
The auditorium itself is cosy, sitting about 60 people so excellent for a small, intimate concert where the feel is very much that of a house concert. The stage is well presented and lit whilst the sound, which wasn't provided by the venue on the night, was good apart from one small glitch early on that actually worked in favour of the support act.
The music was presented by Graham Smallwood for FolkOnMonday, moving away from their traditional night and spiritual home at the Green Note, but still the benchmark of excellent music in London as they have been for the last seven years.
Opening the evening was Kirsty Merryn, now a London based folk singer. Accompanying herself on the piano she delighted the audience with beautifully delicate songs, many of which came from her own début EP "Just The Winter" although the opener was a good interpretation of Nic Jones' "The Outlandish Knight".
That was followed by a song from the EP and the sound glitch. It's possible that somebody leant on the reverb slider by mistake so all of a sudden the room sounded as if Big Brother had arrived. It was quickly resolved but noticed by everybody and from the stage, without breaking time or losing the lyrics, came "I think we've just gone through a tunnel!"
A little later on a phone rang. This is something I have seen irritate a few musicians, but Kirsty dealt with it with such charm and gentle humour. "It's probably his Mum. It's normally your Mum. Yes, Mum, you can have more than two tabs open". That's a sign of a confident musician who has learnt their trade the proper way.
We also heard songs from the new album, due out in October, including one sung a capella. Kirsty is somebody to watch for the future and it has just been announced that she will be supporting Show of Hands on their Cathedral tour. Recommendations don't come much higher than that.
After a short interval it was time for the main event and there was a real buzz in the audience as Emily Mae Winters took to the stage in her trio format with Matthew Atkins (fiddle and piano) and John Parker (double bass).
One of the key factor's in Emily's rise is her ability to write and sing songs across the spectrum, without ever sounding as if she is simply doing covers. The performance opened with "Blackberry Lane", which also opens the album. This is a pure folk song self-written, about young love and leaving the big city behind for the more simple pleasures of the countryside. That was followed by "Miles To Go", found on both album and EP, which showcases Emily's incredible voice so well. It's rare to find such power combined with perfect control and it gives many of her songs a theatrical, if not operatic, quality.
Folk sits comfortably with Country in Emily's repertoire as we saw when Emmy Lou Harris's "Red Dirt Girl" was followed by John Connolly's "Fiddler's Green", which the audience joined in with gusto. There were sad songs, too, such as the moving "Turning The Page", when a relationship is over and it is time to move on.
Jumping ahead in the set we discovered that the title track "Siren Serenade" also has its roots in heartbreak. After being dumped Emily was sitting by a rather depressing lake in Hungary, in the rain, wondering what a siren's story was that would cause them to lead so many men to their deaths. The beauty of this song is its simplicity which was helped on the night by the two-part harmony provided by the audience. That was rather special.
Checking my notes afterwards I was astounded to find that Emily sang sixteen song, followed by a double encore, which is an incredible number considering how quickly the evening flew past. Part of that was the mix of styles and presentation; as well as the trio there were solo and a capella songs.
Accompanying herself on guitar Carole King's "Will you Still Love Me Tomorrow" closed out the main part of the show. Without that lush sound so recognisable in the original Shirelles recording it becomes, in Emily's hands, a song full of angst and self-doubt that is rather heartwrenching.
The evening closed with the ever beautiful "Until The Light", a song that Andrew Lloyd Webber must be cursing himself for not writing. It deserves a place in a major musical and, for me, sums up why Emily is gaining such a reputation. It's bold and theatrical, it needs a big voice to do it justice and yet it is so human in it's scale and uplifting with it's message of a bright future dawning that you automatically warm to performer.
There is just one more thing to mention, that made the evening. Emily played a country song she's written called "Wildfire". It isn't on "Siren Serenade" because it hasn't been recorded yet; there is a lot more to come.
Tony Birch:Words and Pics
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