I made my first ever visit to Norwich and found a thriving music scene, with a host of clubs and open mics producing any number of good musicians. A fair few of them appeared at the launch of Nic Norton and the Country Band's "Last Orders" debut album held in The Garage. which is a centre for performing arts located in central Norwich. Although it has several performance spaces the launch took place in the café, which is an intimate space serving a wide range of bottled drinks and some rather good home-made sausage rolls. One excellent idea they have, which I wish more places would copy, is that they only serve coffee during the intervals. Nothing ruins a love ballad more than milk being frothed.
The band consists of Nic Norton (guitar/vocals), Alice Mills (vocals/ukulele) and Mollie Narayn-Barrow (fiddle). Together they have a sound which can broadly be defined as Americana / Country but with a fair influence of folk and they mainly perform songs written by Nic. His writing is very good, with acute observations on the trials of life and some incredibly dark humour. His take on love and relationships certainly isn't always Mills and Boon.
"Lavinia I remember how you looked oh so sweet,
The night you threw my stuff and my life in to the street.
You said I was a passing passion, nothing now remained.
You said you didn't want me dead but you'd like to see me maimed."
Alternatively he can write with a real sense of longing and tenderness. "Bottle of Wine" is about a relationship that finished but still left feelings that time can possibly cure if it gets a second chance
"But I saw you today and so wanted to say, your eyes still sparkle and shine
Do you have time for me, now we're both free, shall I bring round a bottle of wine?"
Lead singer Alice has a wonderful voice, with a good range to it and that control which suggests some professional training. She never strains for a note and has a relaxed style. The same is true of Mollie who's a very good fiddle player, again with an easy style that shows real ability. Together the three have a very tight sound and over two sets delighted the audience. Not all the songs from the album were played, there are 13 on it, but we got a good selection that made the most of the trio and showed what they're capable in a lovely showcase.
The set opened with "Falling Star" where Mollie took the main instrumental lead around Alice's lyrics, with Nic providing the steady rhythm that makes it all work. This is a song about memories of times past, when life was so simple, but now falling hopelessly in love. It's very beautiful.
"Pretty Boy" is another song about a girl in love with a boy and wanting to make it far more than just a distant attraction. The band worked well together on this one, with Mollie's fiddle weaving around Nic's steady guitar and then Alice, in the higher range, put a real sense of yearning into the lyrics.
"Atlantic Merchant Company" saw Nic take the lead vocal on a rather dark story of a man being worked to death by his employers, running this fingers through the sums rather than his love's hair late at night when the lights go out. There's a twist to the end of this one that I won't reveal, but he gets a glimpse of his future in a rather Dickensian way. It's clever, and very good wordsmithing.
Also keeping the night bubbling along was the use of guest performers, local artists contributing to a song or two and I was impressed to find out that the majority of it was a jam with very little rehearsal. It certainly didn't sound that way, always the sign of quality. At various points the band were joined by Gareth George (guitar), Robin Evans (banjo), and Alex Beckhelling (piano). Mention should also be made of Steve Underhill on sound who did a great job throughout the night balancing it all up, especially as the piano was slightly remote from the main stage grouping. Everything was clear and precise.
The evening ended with a well deserved call for an encore and we were given "Last Orders at Delaney's", very suitably. This song is based on a real pub that used to be in Norwich. "The former pub of last choice - it stayed open to 2am - in the city centre," as Nic says and can really attack a barnstorming song like this, having a bit of grit and gravel in his voice which suits the tone of the piece. Alice's vocals counterpointed well and Mollie's driving fiddle got everybody's feet tapping and hands clapping.
The album's now launched and you should get a copy. It's local, independent music at its very best and performed by people who have a real passion for what they do. Hopefully it will encourage you to explore you local area as well.
To show how good local music can be we had two support acts who were well worth seeing. Limpet (https://soundcloud.com/limpet-uk ) is the stage name of Lauren Pincher who is starting to write her own music, accompanying herself on the ukelele and she uses it as a real instrument, with picking as well as strumming, and it suits her rather delicate sound. She's certainly willing to experiment and gave us a new song "Permafrost" that doesn't have a melody as yet so she made it spoken word, which was very effective. Her songs are based on relationships, with "Alaska" considering the Northern Lights as a person, the metaphor being the cold light of the aurora reflecting a dwindling relationship whilst "Little Girl" is a song to her younger self about love. Her cover over The Rapture's "Sail Away", stripped of the original's overpowering drums and in her delicate voice, was very effective.
Also taking a fresh approach to some familiar songs was Becky Hazelwood, who's a relative newcomer to the music scene and had met Nic at an open mic session not that long ago. She has a high, clear voice very suited to folk music. Both "Diamonds & Rust" and "A Case Of You" were adapted to her own style and different enough to attract attention rather than being songs we're more than familiar with. Her own material is about making connections, particularly connecting or reconnecting with nature to find a place in the world. There's no real social media presence yet, but hopefully that will change and I think the audiences at folk clubs around East Anglia will get more chances to hear her work.
The evening was a celebration of local music and to sum the spirit of it up this was free entry gig with any donations made going to a local music charity. Musicians are wonderful people and we should cherish them.
Tony Birch words and pictures
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