House Concerts have been commonplace in the USA for many years, and recently have been growing in popularity in the UK. It's not obvious whether this is a symptom of a desire for greater authenticity in music as fatigue grows with the sort of manufactured X-Factor shenanigan that has dominated music for MUCH TOO LONG, or a disengagement of music from the public, with so many bands increasingly playing in ever bigger arenas with ever higher ticket prices, but there is clearly a demand for "real" live music. Yet this is also at a time when many smaller music venues are vanishing, driven out of business by a toxic mix of rising costs, the demise of the British pub and, in London at least, the influx of gentrifying new residents wanting their locality cleansed of anything resembling character. Whatever the causes though, House Concerts are a wonderful way to experience music - it doesn't get any more intimate than playing or listening in someone's living room. House concerts are also becoming integral to how artists can make a living in these hard times, for both some established musicians and younger players looking to make their mark - and what better way for an upcoming artist to build a following than actually meeting people and playing to them eye to eye. These events work well on many levels, they can fill in dead dates on a tour without the overheads of venue fees, usually with B&B thrown into the deal. So, it was with some delight that I discovered someone arranging house concerts just a short walk away from my house, and am now a regular in the audience making new friends and finding great new music in the process. You won't just find folk artists either, although the setting suits folk extremely well, but house concerts are spanning every area of music from opera to urban.
The most recent concert was Merel, a singer / songwriter / guitarist from Utrecht in the Netherlands. Her name is the Dutch for Blackbird and so it is natural for her to include the eponymous Beatle's song in her set; and she did it justice with a reading of the song that was both familiar but also made very much her own - quite a feat with such a finger picking standard. Merel's guitarwork is like her voice -delicate and ethereal and at times so gossamer like that it is hardly there at all, but very beautifully done.
Her set included two covers in addition to "Blackbird" - Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" was an obvious choice for her; less obvious perhaps was Johnny Cash's "Ring Of Fire" but both worked well and were given a twist that fitted Merel's style without losing the feel of the originals. These song were a punchy contrast to Merel's own songs which tended to be gentler and more introspective. Merel sings both in English and Dutch, songs with titles such as "Like a Kid", "Search" and "Forgive" and "Zonnebloemenboom" which may be less obvious for the English only speakers, but it turns out to mean "a bit of yellow" - the Dutch word for the head of a Sunflower. A set of delicately melodic songs, delivered in a charming fashion in the company of friends made for an enchanting evening, and another successful house concert. I can only recommend to seek out your local house concert and go along!
Merel is to release her new CD shortly, which will include her song "Hill of Clouds".
There are only so many hours in a day and only so many gigs we can get to. We'd really like to expand our national coverage of the live scene as it remains the life blood of music.
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