The West Country has always been a hot bed of folk talent, but there’s little doubt that Exeter is developing a reputation for having a particularly vibrant live music scene at the moment. It’s a city that appears regularly on artists’ tour itineraries, travelling from all over the country to play in the heart of Devon. Yet there is also an impressive depth of gigging musicians within the close surrounding area, and some of these are building quite a following. Twigg’s Gigs is one of the reasons Exeter is becoming such a go to place for live music, with artists such as Martyn Joseph, Reg Meuross, Willy Porter, and Rebecca Loebe all coming regularly to the city to perform at their gigs. They also champion local music, utilising a lovely venue a short walk away from the city centre, or running intimate house gigs.
Both Velvet & Stone and Ben Morgan-Brown have released highly regarded EPs this year, so highly regarded in fact that Velvet & Stone had no physical copies left to sell. The songs on both records predictably featured prominently in both sets. Morgan-Brown kicked off the gig with the first song from his EP, title track Cold Rooms. Having enjoyed the EP immensely, I was fascinated to see how successfully his intricate songs with their understated vocals would translate to a sizeable Church hall. The answer is very well indeed. He had the audience leaning forward in their seats entranced.
Despite this having been his fourth gig in a week, the Exeter based singer-songwriter was in top form. After Cold Rooms we had perhaps the pick of the songs on his EP, No More Fooling, which manages to be both sparse and richly complex. While his mother, who was in the audience, has accused his songs of being miserable (her tongue firmly in cheek I’m sure), Ben Morgan-Brown is incredibly adept at mining a rich vein of melancholia while still making his songs strangely uplifting. After speaking very eloquently of his late father, he finished his set with the wonderful Sunken Treasure (which can be downloaded free via the Fatea Showcase Session – Serpent), and Never Been Found.
The last time I saw Velvet & Stone perform live was three years ago (almost to the day) at nearby Hope Hall, supporting Reg Meuross and Jess Vincent. The line-up may be substantially different now, with Kev Jackson and Paddy Blight joining originals Lara Snowdon and Kathryn Tremlett, but they’ve lost none of their ability to captivate an audience. Having spent most of the day running through their set list ready for the gig, they were ready to deliver, and deliver and they did.
First up was Am I Dreaming?, the video for which had its debut via For Folks’ Sake on the day of the gig. It’s the kind of slow building number that Velvet & Stone are so good at, drawing you in and leading you to the inevitably dramatic climax. Last year’s highly rated single Raise Your Ghosts was next up, a bit more up-tempo and wonderful to hear. Forget About The Rain was the first song from their debut EP The Storm to get an airing, allowing Kathryn Tremlett’s sublime violin playing to take centre stage.
It was a set-list seemingly designed to give everyone a chance to shine. River is a brand new song, and performed for the very first time in front of an audience, with Lara and Kev’s guitars taking the fore. Trouble, from the recent EP, was lifted superbly by Paddy Blight’s double bass. Then you have my personal favourite, Embers, with Lara Snowdon’s spine-tingling vocal performance. If the official recording features an incredibly fragile vocal, it’s nothing compared to the rawness that comes from a live performance following a day of run throughs. Without the piano it’s not quite as dramatic, but it is still a hauntingly beautiful song and a huge highlight
Amongst the original tracks was a superb rendition of Wicked Game, given a Velvet & Stone twist, and enormously atmospheric. The set finished with a couple of upbeat tracks – Fisherman’s Blues and Oh Boy, the former of which even featured some audience participation. Following a short break and calls for more, they returned with I’ll Dream Of You Tonight, finishing the night on a very high point.
Rumours abound of a full length album on the cards for Velvet & Stone (well… not so much a rumour as confirmed by the band), and on this form you wouldn’t bet against it being your new favourite. If you get the chance to watch either Velvet & Stone live, or Ben Morgan-Brown, grab the opportunity with both hands. These are two very exciting acts on the live scene right now, and hopefully they will found themselves touring far and wide in the very near future.
Words and photos: Adam Jenkins
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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