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Luke Jackson Trio + Emily Watts + Rob Richings

Venue: The Old School Hall
Town: Maidstone
Date: 16/12/16

This was the last show of the year for all involved, including promoters The Bubble Club. Conceived in 2009 in Whitstable, Kent, the Bubble Club is the brainchild of Steve Weaver and Rob O'Connor and since then they have continued to bring both well-established and newer acts to various venues in Kent with capacities that vary from 80 to 500.

Tonight's Old School Hall in Maidstone was intimate, full of character and pretty much full with a good spirited, suitably seasonal crowd!

Up first was Rob Richings, a solo artist that hails from Swindon who I had not previously come across. He had a lovely, easy presence, which suited his conversational songs perfectly. In tone, his voice very much reminded me of Passenger, but less idiosyncratic and more substantial. Rob also had a sweet guitar style, finger picking the slower numbers and adding a hefty, percussive back beat on the faster songs. All of his songs were well received and I particularly liked 'Parkas and Boots' from his album of the same name and the infectious chorus of 'Regardless'.

Emily Watts is well known in Canterbury music circles and beyond, not only as a singer-songwriter in her own right, but also as the founder and force behind Beautiful Town Music that does much to showcase local musical talent in a listening, supportive environment. Emily and Luke have also played on the same stage many times and if my memory serves me correctly, they first shared the billing in a local church talent show over ten years ago!

Emily has a stunning voice, managing to be both strong and vulnerable, full of light and shade, which she supports perfectly with her subtle, understated piano playing. It is also a contemporary voice, but my most obvious reference points are the tones of Dido and Beth Orton. Emily mainly played a mix of songs from her 'From The Blue' EP and some newer ones written for her upcoming release in 2017. All were very strong and delivered perfectly to a hushed, attentive crowd. Emily described this as a year of 'firsts', including a first play of one of her songs on national Radio 2 and it's easy to see why.

The Luke Jackson Trio were clearly up for their last gig of another busy year, looking like a Santa boy band as they all donned their best Christmas jumpers!

They swept straight in with 'Is it Me' from their EP 'This Family Tree' and 'Sister' from the full length CD 'Fumes & Faith'. Luke is playing his Fender Stratocaster much more on stage these days and collectively the Trio whip up a mighty sound. Connor Downs is a strong, rhythmic drummer with a very distinctive style and Andy Sharps is an endlessly creative bassist, often mirroring or doubling Luke's lead lines and as a band, the timings, stop, starts and syncopations were spot on.

Luke was also in fine voice and as someone who hears him sing often, I think his vocal has found its place over the past few months to the point where it is now delivered without any obvious conscious effort or thought.

The Trio's set spanned songs from the previously mentioned releases and several from the very well received and current CD 'Tall Tales And Rumours'. They also popped in three brilliant covers. Firstly, the old Ray Charles blues song 'I Don't Need No Doctor' that was a real romp with each popping in their little instrumental cameos, a stunning version of Prince's 'Purple Rain' and a moving take on The Pogues Christmas classic 'Fairytale Of New York'.

There were lots of stand out moments, 'Better Man' with marvellous harmonies from Andy Sharps, the driving 'Aunt Sally', tongue in cheek 'Treat Me Mean, Keep Me Keen' and the sheer energy of 'Fathers Footsteps'. However, what stood out for me more than the wonderful musicianship was their obvious love of playing together and the resultant, joyously uplifting sound they created.

An enthusiastic, appreciative crowed sang along heartily with the chorus of the encore song 'The Road' to end the proceedings in suitably communal manner!

It was a great evening of music. Well promoted and organised by The Bubble Club, fine sets from Rob, Emily and the Trio, and all captured perfectly out front by soundman Phil Wilson from his own Independent Music Productions.

This was a splendid way to end the year and whet the appetite for more in 2017!

Paul Jackson

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