by Ian Mann
July 02, 2010
White brings the music of the New York Streets to the English Country House.
The Hatch is a modern recording studio situated in the beautiful surroundings of the Teme Valley near Tenbury Wells in Worcestershire. It is owned by Ben Salmon, rhythm guitarist with the Remi Harris Trio whose live performances and album “Live At The Hatch” have been reviewed elsewhere on this site.
Tonight was the first in a series of live events that are due to be held at The Hatch. The Hatch is also the Salmon family home and is a beautiful old house with magnificent gardens set in rolling countryside. On a glorious summer’s evening it was a magical setting for a concert that featured two very different artists from either side of the Atlantic, both united by a love of the music of the great American folk singer Judy Collins.
The evening commenced with a set from singer/songwriter Deborah Hodgson from the nearby Worcestershire village of Martley. Hodgson has released two enjoyable EPs of mainly original material and has played at the Isle Of Wight Festival. Tonight she sang a mixture of her own tunes, a couple of Judy Collins songs and a smattering of jazz standards.
Hodgson comes from the folk tradition and has a clear, pure, well enunciated voice that sounds quintessentially English, even though, as it happens, she’s actually Welsh. She was accompanied tonight by guitarist Simon Othen and the excellent cellist Catherine Harper. They opened with Hodgson’s emotive “Stars” and the very English quality of her voice and the melancholy ring of Harper’s cello immediately reminded me of the late, great Nick Drake. Although Drake is not a primary influence (that honour falls to Judy Collins) Hodgson is certainly aware of him and is due to play at a festival to celebrate Drake’s life and work in his home village of Tanworth-In-Arden later in the year.
There is a strong autobiographical strand to Hodgson’s writing. The next tune was an affectionate and moving celebration of her grandparents’ sixty five years of marriage and saw Hodgson picking up the guitar herself and demonstrating a considerable ability on the instrument.
Judy Collins’ “Open The Door” was a lovely celebration of friendship and was followed by Hodgson’s own “Say You Will” which featured one of several beautiful cello solos by the hugely talented Harper.
At this point Remi Harris took over from Othen on guitar to duet with Hodgson on Judy Collins’ “Secret Garden”. This exhibited the more sensitive side to Harris’ playing and was a revelation to those of us who had only previously witnessed his dazzling fretwork in his own Django Reinhardt inspired trio or seen him plugging in with the rock band Mars Bonfire.
With Harris in the guitar chair the rest of the set took on a more jazzy direction with the duo now tackling a slowed down version of “Over The Rainbow”. For the first time Hodgson introduced an element of jazz phrasing into her singing and Harris inevitably impressed in the instrumental break.
“Lullaby Of Birdland” introduced a playful element to the proceedings and the set closed with the jazz standard “Autumn Leaves”, a tune that appears on one of Hodgson’s EPs. Her interpretation is inspired by the version recorded by the late Eva Cassidy.
Hodgson is due to record an album at The Hatch in the autumn featuring Eva’s fiddle playing brother Dan Cassidy who has recently featured quite frequently on this site. His swing quartet featuring Remi Harris on lead guitar have only just finished a successful British tour.
Hodgson’s album should be well worth hearing when it comes out but in the meantime she received a great reception from the eighty or so people crammed into the Salmon household. In an intimate but possibly unnerving setting she and her colleagues has delivered a wonderful set of words and music.
During the interval delicious cakes and refreshing elderflower cordial were served and Remi Harris and Ben Salmon played an informal set of Django tunes out on the patio. I missed most of these as I was talking indoors to Deborah and Kenny.
New York singer and songwriter Kenny White is a figure who has crept under my radar but he’s a very welcome discovery if this evening’s performance is anything to go by. A studio veteran who has played on hundreds of sessions and commercials White came late to solo performance. However after a string of quality albums including the recent “Comfort In The Static” I’m sure he has no regrets about taking the plunge. His albums appear on Judy Collins’ Wildflower record label , just one of the connections bringing tonight’s performers together.
Primarily a piano player White also accompanies himself on guitar and harmonica. His show tonight was strictly solo and he quickly won over the audience, most of whom I would think were also unfamiliar with his work.
White is a clever word-smith and a witty and articulate songwriter. His New York hipster persona was a complete contrast to Hodgson’s elfin English Rose. His songs combine humour, sharp observation and social comment with a surprisingly tender romanticism. White doesn’t have a classically “good voice” but it works well for his material and like that of Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen, another New Yorker, it is capable both of “withering scorn and surprising compassion”, a memorable quote from Mark Coleman of Rolling Stone magazine.
White’s words have the same kind of street lyricism that informs the best work of writers such as Paul Simon and Tom Waits. Songs like the opening “Shoot The Moon” are well observed and have a strong sense of place, but there’s a strong romantic streak in there too.
“She’s Comin’ On Saturday” was almost Waitsian in it’s humour and “Five Girls” a brilliantly wordy blend of humour and observation but with an achingly sad core.
White then switched to guitar and harmonica for “Who’s Gonna Be The One To Save You” and “Pat Robertson”, the latter a scabrous attack on the American TV evangelist.
Based in Greenwich Village White is a skilled chronicler of life in his home city. For “Last Drop” he switched on a beatbox to simulate the persistent tinny chatter of “portable Sonys” on the bus. That modern touch contrasted well with “What Good Would That Do Me Now”, a superb attempt to write a song in the style of a 40’s or 50’s standard.
“Might As Well Leave”, co-written with Jill Donnelly was a perspicacious look at a tired relationship and “Gotta Sing High” a wry look at the song writing process in which White took a thinly veiled pop at James Blunt. Mind you lampooning James Blunt is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel if you ask me.
“Beautiful Changes”, which name-checks Charlie Parker, paid homage to White’s love of jazz, he’s familiar with all the New York clubs. It also emphasised White’s formidable talents as an instrumentalist. He’s a highly talented pianist and produced an amazing sound from the upright he was using. A couple of pieces featured stunning jazz based solos but with White it’s mostly about the songs themselves.
“In My Recurring Dream” closed the set and drew a standing ovation from virtually all those present. His gritty yet tender songs and engaging patter had stuck a chord with this new audience and an encore was inevitable. White chose to acknowledge his debt to Paul Simon with a faithful rendition of the latter’s “American Tune” and finally closed with his own “Symphony In 16 Bars” a moving tribute to his late father and the title track of his last but one album.
What made tonight special besides the quality of the music was the sense that this was an “event”. The beautiful weather, idyllic surroundings and the quality of the music combined to make the evening particularly memorable. This was the night that Kenny White brought the music of the New York Streets to the English Country House and made it all seem perfectly logical and natural.
Thanks to Deborah Hodgson for inviting me along to cover the event- “work” can be such a pleasure sometimes- and to Ben Salmon for giving me a quick peek at the The Hatch’s splendid studio facilities including the new state of the art valve mixing desk.
The Hatch has three further live events scheduled for September 2010;
Wednesday 15th -“Setting The Woods On Fire” with Deep Elem and The Remi Harris Trio
Tuesday 21st- Female Singer/songwriter Lisbee
Tuesday 28th-Young folk stars Hannah James (accordion, voice, dancing) and Sam Sweeney (violin) of Kerfuffle and Bellowhead fame. Definitely a must see.
In the meantime check out the performer’s websites;
http://www.debhodgson.com and www.myspace.com/deborahhodgson