Ange Hardy Album Launch

Venue: The Regal
Town: Minehead
Date: 13/9/14

At the end of the evening this was one of those gigs where I felt that I really should have spent some time photographing the audience. Not because there was nothing on stage worth point a camera at, far from it, more because what there was on stage made this one of those gigs that will have an increasing audience size as it progresses.

Before I get into full flow, I think it's only fair I declare an interest, along with Acoustic Cafe's Brian Player, it was my privilege to co-compere this gig on what turned out to be an incredible night at the Regal Theatre in Minehead.

We were here for the launch of Ange Hardy's new album, "The Lament Of The Black Sheep", an album inspired by a rural idiom and yet one that also contains a number of nautical and historical references, so an art deco theatre on the North Somerset Coast with a view of sweeping farmland, if you looked really hard, was the ideal place for this incredible album to officially come to life.

I say officially as, like many a modern album, "The Lament Of The Black Sheep" has already had a soft launch, gathered a five star review in the Telegraph, been awarded album of the week accolades and garnered universal praise up and down the country and beyond, including here, if you want to check out our reviews section. This is not a review of the album, rather the launch and like a liner coming down the ramp and into the water, somewhat spectacular.

Being the album launch, Ange was joined by a number of musicians that had helped make the album, Jo May, Lukas Drinkwater, Andrew 'Rocky' Rock and additional vocalists in the shape of Luke Jackson, Steve Pledger and Jemima Farey. Nothing unusual in that you might think, except that this was also Ange Hardy's debut performance with a band.

Like an album it was a show of two halves and a series of grand performances, with each half having vignettes from two excellent songwriters and then a performance from Ange, gradually being joined by her band. This was a night where songwriting reigned supreme and Ange gave herself the fearsome prospect of going on after another artist with a star very much on the rise, Luke Jackson. As it was performing a duet with Luke performed a delightful bridge from his more blues sound into the wonderful vocal harmonies of Ange and her looper, but that was still to come in the second half.

Steve Pledger opened up the night and from the moment he struck the first chord, you knew it was going to be a special night. Steve is a man that writes strong songs and performs them in a way that makes singer and song easy to relate to, easy to feel empathy with and whilst most of the guests only performed two songs, you could definitely feel the quality and never mind the width.

Lukas Drinkwater, on loan from 3 Daft Monkeys, amongst others, showed that when it comes to him being front and centre, he's definitely no slouch and if the album that's rumoured to be emerging towards the end of this year, beginning of next matches the quality of the pair of songs that delighted us tonight, it's going to be something very special indeed.

Something very special indeed, is a phrase that could have been written just to encapsulate Ange Hardy, who through talent and hard work burst onto the folk scene with her previous album, "Barefoot Folk" and has used that talent to build up a real head of steam for "The Lament Of The Black Sheep".

I had the honour of welcoming Ange Hardy to the stage and then to watch from the wings as she walked to the microphone to strong and warm applause. I always find that it is the mark of a top artist that when they've strapped their instrument of choice on, the audience hush in expectation with needing to be gestured to do so.

There is a journey across the wider narrative of both the new album and Ange's performances generally and tonight that journey was enhanced by the addition of the band. Having started solo, with songs that feel more intimate, the band provide an aural landscape for her to weave the tales around. It was definitely unexpected, but sounded spot on.

As Ange and the band drew the first half to a close, I thought they were employing the adage of leaving them wanting more, but a glanced at my watch confirmed it was time flying by when you're enjoying yourself, or perhaps a bit of both. Either way, rather than kicking back, the band joined the audience in the bar for some meet and greet time.

By coincidence both of the acts starting off the second half, Jemima Farey and Luke Jackson have featured on the Fatea Showcase Sessions, worryingly, if you add their ages up, I'd still have a few years on them and both are real talents, showing songwriting and performance beyond their years.

Jemima had a glitch with her guitar at the start that I've seen knock experienced musicians out of their stride, but she just laughed it off and carried on like it was second nature. Whilst the songs follow regular themes of partnership, there is a definite maturity in the writing that identifies ms Farey as one to keep an eye on as she manages to find interesting perspectives to explore.

Luke Jackson has already established himself as an artist that delivers both on record and through his live performances. He's an artist that gives 100% of himself on stage, something particularly noticeable when he's performing his more blues inspired numbers. I don't know how he does it, but somewhere behind the facade of youth, is an old man who has lived many lives and had many experiences and somehow he manages to condense that into two songs before calling Ange Hardy to the stage to join him in a duet, to which only the word sublime can really be attached.

Ange's second set was an emotional rollercoaster ride that at times reduced part of the audience and almost Ange herself to tears, with a powerful song about her family. I think she was only saved by her band coming on at that point and giving her an immediate and different focus and dynamic, something it took the audience a little longer to find, but all were picked up and dusted off before the midpoint of that next number.

This was a performance and show that we will all cherish for many a long time, the finale had all the performers on stage and all deservedly taking a bow together. Naturally there was time for one more sparkling highlight, the encore, just Ange, her voice and a lullaby to soothe us on our way, at least until we reached the bar, where all of the artists saw cds being exchanged for good hard cash, but without a doubt the real star of the night was Ange Hardy and "The Lament Of The Black Sheep"

Neil King

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