Where can you have a superb evening's entertainment from a talented ukulele trio, a sublime acoustic duo and an award-winning singer-songwriter from Canada and all for £8?
The answer is Grateful Fred's, that's where.
Clearly, the word is spreading, for the Studio in The Atkinson was packed to capacity with music-loving Fredheads.
In a break with tradition, the evening was not opened by the Grateful Fred House Band but instead we had an alternative treat in the shape of the Grateful Fred Ukulele Trio aka The Benylin Brothers which consisted of Good Ol' Grateful Fred himself, Peter McPartland [of The Big I Am] and Vinnie Gillespie. These boys weren't messing about as they delivered a blistering but eclectic set [all played on various ukuleles] consisting of rock ["Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time"], rhythm and blues [Sam Cooke's "I'll Keep Running Back"], The Beatles ["I Will"], a superb version of Kate Bush's "Cloudbusting", a stunning rendition of "Need Your Love So Bad", with Vinnie "the Peter Green of the Ukulele" Gillespie on lead uke and finishing it all off with Don Henley's "Boys Of Summer"with a flamenco twist to it. A great performance by the Trio.
Next up we had Liverpool's finest guitar/harmony duo TJ & Murphy, who are TJ Mealey and David "Murphy" Bower. Quite why they haven't appeared a Grateful Fred's before tonight is a mystery to me as they fit the Grateful Fred's ethos perfectly with their tasteful fingerpicked twin acoustic guitars and superb vocal harmonies, not forgetting their excellent self-composed songs.TJ & M began their set with "Joe Crazy Rose" which is the first track on their gorgeous second album "Hurricanes". "The Vinefields" beautifully evokes a place where the writer used to play as a child and the lyrics arose out of a letter to a friend who ended up in prison.
Another song "Old Dog" was born as a result of a busking trip around Europe, whilst "Goodnight Houston" is a delicate love song with a tinge of regret.
As well as their own lovely songs, TJ & M gave us a pair of choice covers, Bob Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe" and Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing In The Dark", both performed in their own inimitable style. Excellent set.
Headliner tonight was Canadian singer-songwriter Amelia Curran, who hails from St.John's, Newfoundland. Amelia won a Juno Award in 2010 for her album "Hunter Hunter"and released her latest album "They Promised You Mercy" in November 2014.
Like TJ & Murphy, Amelia started out by busking, in her case, on the streets of St.John's [rather than the St.John's Shopping Centre in Liverpool].
There is no doubt that Amelia is a very fine lyricist and that she has a warm expressive voice [not a million miles from Suzanne Vega's] but at the beginning of her set she confessed that she felt "awkward" on stage.
Naturally, songs from the new album made up the majority of Amelia's set, including "Strike The Band", "Coming For You"[ "I coming for you like a stampede"], "The Reverie", "Time, Time" and the optimistic "Somebody Somewhere".
My particular favourite song on the new album is "I am The Night" and Amelia's performance as "the queen of the closing bar" was compelling and convincing. If that was good, the next song was superb. This was Amelia's Folk-Rap "The Mistress" which held the audience spellbound as she tussled with "the war between the evil and the good".
If the performance of "The Mistress" was powerful and intense, the next number "You Won't Find Me" found Amelia having a fit of the giggles as she sang "you won't find me in the arms of strangers". Just for good measure she segued into "Sonny's Dream" by fellow Canadian songwriter Ron Hynes.
After an encore of the catchy "Never Say Goodbye", Amelia did just that and said goodbye as she was off to the station to catch the last train to Manchester.
If Amelia did feel "awkward" it certainly didn't show as this was a fine performance by a artist who is not afraid to show her emotions and to wear her heart on her sleeve.
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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