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Music and Poetry Evening at Tarc Gallery, Stanford Bridge, Worcestershire, 02/10/2012.

by Ian Mann

October 03, 2012


Ian Mann enjoys a varied evening of music and poetry hosted by Deborah Rose and headlined by rising star singer/songwriter Stephen Langstaff.

Music and Poetry Evening featuring Stephen Langstaff, Deborah Rose and others at Tarc Gallery. Stanford Bridge, Worcestershire, 02/10/2012.

Tonight’s event was a celebration of National Poetry Day which is due to take place on October 4th 2012. Cordially hosted as ever by singer/guitarist/songwriter Deborah Rose the evening brought together performances by locally based musicians and poets and culminated with a headlining set from rising star singer/songwriter Stephen Langstaff.

As well as presenting quality headline acts across a variety of musical genres the Tarc programme also seeks to nurture young local musical talent and to this end has hosted a successful “Tarc Teens” event in which a selection of aspiring young musicians and singers was given the opportunity to perform in front of a sympathetic audience. Two of the most popular performers from that event in June were invited back to open tonight’s programme. Fourteen year old singer Portia collaborated with the slightly older pianist/vocalist Jake on an interesting selection of material including two songs written specifically for the occasion. The theme of this year’s National Poetry Day is “Stars” and the duo began with Portia’s song “Touching Stars”, specifically written for tonight’s event, following this with another engaging original “Pretty Head”. The young duo then performed a slowed down and highly effective acoustic version of Lady Gaga’s “Marry The Night” (note to self;good song, put musical snobbery aside and check out the original). The first part of tonight’s show finished with Jake at his Panasonic keyboard singing his own “I See Stars”, also written specifically for the occasion. The songs of both young songwriters were astonishingly mature and their performances similarly assured. The pair have now begun collaborating on material and Portia is learning the piano, intending to use the instrument as an aid to her songwriting. Both youngsters live locally, look out for both of them in the years ahead, there is rich promise here.

Tonight’s show was not unlike an old fashioned revue and next up was performance poet Fergus McGonigal aka Fergus The Poet from Chaddesley Corbett near Kidderminster. A schoolteacher by profession and the father of five sons Fergus’ poems almost inevitably focus on children and family life with the poet musing on the vagaries of his chosen subject matter in a highly amusing and entertaining way. The Tarc audience was readily able to identify with Fergus’ poems about the “Black Hole of Middle Age” and took great delight in the often hilarious opening salvo
“The Greatest Pleasure of Being a Parent is to See
Other People’s Children Behave Atrociously in Public”.
“Christmas Is For Children” explored similar territory before Fergus slaughtered some of the sacred cows of popular music in “Unlistenable”. This was particularly amusing for your correspondent even if some of the targets were pretty predictable.

“The Boy And The Book” in which the poet expresses his shock at seeing a child actually reading seemed particularly pertinent in this increasingly dumbed down age. “Shoes” lampooned women’s addiction to fashion and just to keep things even “The Beautiful Game” mens’s obsession with football (guilty as charged your honour). “It Could Have Been Worse” tackled a friend’s mid life crisis and both “Guess What” and “Do Not Stand At My Desk And Weep” referenced McGonigal’s work at the chalk-face. 

“Conversations” and “Long Words” took a real delight in language itself, the joys of learning and self expression. A most enjoyable half hour was concluded with a witty Auden pastiche, “The Truth About Love”. Fergus performs at poetry slams and other literary events across the Midlands and beyond.  More at

After a short coffee interval the second half began with more poetry with Deborah’s friend Jenny Hope, from the village of Martley, reading three poems from her recently published collection “Petrolhead”. These were very different in mood to Fergus’ comic verse and also seemed to be at odds with the title of Hope’s book. Instead all three poems delighted in the wonders of the natural world with “The Forest Seamstress” written from the point of view of a tree, “Riddle” relishing in the invisible power of the wind and “Sheep” finding contentment in the simplicity of rural life.

Host Deborah Rose (nee Hodgson) then took to the floor, accompanying herself on guitar to perform her song “First Day” based on a sonnet by Christina Rosetti. The piece is taken from a recently released five track EP, the disc a precursor to Rose’s long awaited first full album release “Song be my Soul” which should finally see the light of day in 2013. The album will feature a setting of a poem by the late Eva Cassidy and the line up will include Eva’s brother Dan Cassidy on violin. I have written before of the purity of Rose’s voice and the quality of her songwriting. Her love of song and poetry was the unifying factor of this evening. It is to be hoped that the release of her first full length album will introduce her talents to a wider audience.

Stephen Langstaff then joined her to take over on guitar as Rose sang her original song “Small Victory”, the lyrics partly inspired by Michaelangelo’s statue of David. The duo then performed Hank Williams’ “Lonesome Whippoorwill”, a typically bleak Williams song sometimes known as “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”. Rose revealed that she had once worked with Williams’ granddaughter country singer Holly Williams. To close this section of the show they lightened the mood with their version of “Someday Soon” by Rose’s sometime mentor Judy Collins. Deborah Rose’s contributions to the musical evenings at Tarc are always a highlight and tonight was no exception. 

Langstaff remained on stage to deliver the night’s headline set. The Liverpool born songwriter is something of a rising star who has received extensive airplay on BBC Radio 2 for his song “Smile” which was to appear late on in his set. He has also toured with fellow Liverpudlians the Lightning Seeds and supported the Broudie bunch at their recent appearance at Worcester’s Huntingdon Hall venue. Such was the impression that Langstaff left on the Worcester audience that a number of them turned out tonight to support him again.

Langstaff’s music occupies a niche somewhere between folk and pop, his songs are deep enough to be taken seriously, some are catchy enough to be capable of appealing to a mass audience. He cites his favourite songwriters as being Tori Amos, Tracy Chapman, Nina Simone and Jeff Buckley.  He’s a highly accomplished guitarist and his high pitched but powerful and emotive voice has something of Buckley’s famed flexibility about it. His album “Colours” is a good representation of his virtues and a good souvenir of his acoustic live performances. A number of tonight’s songs were sourced from this album and there is another release due next year, this time with a full band including bass, drums and cello, a bigger production budget and hopefully a major label release. I was intrigued by Langstaff’s mention of the use of cello in his band, I can imagine the sound of that instrument complementing the timbre of his voice superbly.

Returning to tonight’s performance Langstaff opened with the short and poetic “Under A Pillow” following this with “When The Rains Came” with its images of “sunset over a Bermondsey skyline” and another reference to that statue of David.

The catchy “Spires”, an excellent potential single, was an evocative picture of a very English version of romantic love. Langstaff then revealed that the following “When All Is Said” was written for the same girl before then confiding that he had sung the simple, heart warming “At Last” at his brother’s wedding. 

The urgent strumming of “All Good Americans” provided a certain edginess but despite the title it didn’t appear to be an obviously political song. “Mary Rose”, which Langstaff dedicated to Tarc’s Rosemary Kirby was contrastingly gentle and included rich Parisian imagery which was somewhat at odds with the sound of rain drumming on the gallery roof. The greater urgency of “The Other Way” drowned out the rain, which thankfully proved to be only a passing shower.

Mindful of the “stars” theme of the evening Langstaff invited Deborah Rose back to the floor as he accompanied the hostess’ beautiful and moving rendition of Don McLean’s “Vincent”. This was rapturously received by the audience and topped off an excellent night’s work from Rose.

Langstaff remained to play two of his most infectious and popular songs, “Call Me”, a relatively new composition and a possible future single, and the aforementioned “Smile” a regular on the Radio 2 play list and a number with which some of the audience members already seemed to be familiar. These last two items, particularly the simple but uplifting “Smile”, were particularly well received and after the show the reaction to Langstaff’s performance was overwhelmingly positive with a number of albums being sold.

At twenty seven Langstaff has paid his dues and the next album could be the big break for him. A quality songwriter, distinctive singer and a highly competent guitarist he is an accomplished performer who seems ready for a bigger stage. In the meantime it was a pleasure to discover his music in the intimate setting of the Tarc Gallery.

Overall this was another highly successful evening for Deborah Rose and Rosemary Kirby. Well done to all the musicians and poets involved. I intend to take a closer look at Langstaff’s “Colours” and Deborah Rose’s new EP in due course.

Next at the Tarc Gallery is American singer/songwriter Rachel Sage on Friday 16th November,7.30 pm.

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