Henry Priestman and Amy Wadge

Live Review | The Duchess, York | Review by Allan Wilkinson

Sharing the bill on a relatively quiet night at the Duchess in York, fellow singer-songwriters Henry Priestman and Amy Wadge brightened up an otherwise gloomy prospect at one of the best live venues in the city. I’ve stopped asking myself where everybody disappears to midweek. I know there are people in the world, I see them in traffic jams when I try to negotiate York city centre on a weekend. I also see them in supermarket queues when I’m trying to buy a single bottle of milk, or scurrying along the Shambles like mice in a cosmetics lab on market day. Why then, do we seem to mislay a vast amount of the population when some of our best performers come to town? I squarely put the blame on ‘X Factor’. No matter, this audience made up in enthusiasm what it lacked in numbers and both Henry Priestman and Amy Wadge received a first rate welcome. Good friends, collaborators, travelling partners and playmates, Amy and Henry shared the night equally and even shared guitarist Pete Riley, whose work was cut out for him during the evening, providing some tasteful and intuitive guitar playing during both sets. Amy Wadge is in the process of preparing her fourth full length album due to be released in the spring but is on the cusp of releasing her new download-only single “Hold Me” on 2nd November, with versions in both English and Welsh. The version Amy performed tonight was the English version, the video of which can be seen on her website in glorious black and white, shot on location on Hampstead Heath. The Welsh version of the song, translated as “Dal Fi”, has the added attraction of being treated as a fund raiser for her daughter’s Ysgol Feithrin (Welsh nursery school) with 20p from the sale download being donated to the Welsh Nursery Schools Movement. Tonight, alternating between guitar, piano and at one point ukulele, Amy was aware that every single member of the audience was on her side as she played essentially her greatest hits including “These Are the Songs” with its reference to some of our most cherished song writers, USA? “We’ll Wait and See” from the Henry Priestman produced No Sudden Moves album and utilising the ukulele for a sweet performance of Nashville, a song preceded by a tale of how both Amy and Henry almost died in a log cabin fire in the heart of Tennessee a few years ago. Speaking to Amy backstage, the singer-songwriter told me that the friends were in Nashville together, staying at a log cabin, where the room in which Henry was sleeping caught fire. Henry told me later that he nearly died in that fire, but revealed also that that specific visit to Nashville was ‘the germ’ which ignited his enthusiasm for performing once again. Whilst the rest of the world is glued to the box, presumably watching the likes of reality shows such as the aforementioned ‘X Factor’, which in turn is attempting to make stars of the likes of Diana Vickers, there are hard-working song writers busy producing songs like “When You Kiss Me”, coincidentally written especially for Vickers, who turned it down, presumably on the grounds that it was too damn good! My preference is always for songs performed by their authors and Amy’s performance of this song was no exception. The song will also appear on the new album. For her final song “Always”, again from her No Sudden Moves album, Amy was joined by Henry who provided backing vocals and percussion. Anyone who has encountered Amy in person will no doubt have wondered how such a huge voice can possibly come from such a small frame. Nowhere more than on this song does Amy excel in emotive delivery, with a voice that oscillates between sweet whispers and throat-torturing grit. Henry Priestman has been around for a good while now, mainly known for his work with Yachts in the 1970s and with The Christians in the 1980s, co-writing some of the band’s best known hits such as “Ideal World” and “Born Again”, both of which were included in his set tonight. Speaking to Henry backstage before his set, the singer-songwriter revealed that Garry Christian recently attended one of his gigs and “didn’t say the songs sounded bad, which I take as a big plus”. The main bulk of the set though centred round Henry’s remarkable new album The Chronicles of Modern Life, an album made up new songs each focussing on exactly where the song-writer sees himself these days. Like a throwback to the days of the folk troubadour, Henry tells each story with earnest conviction, even though some deal directly with mid-life resignation. Old with its “I’m the same age as my father was when I first thought he was old” refrain, is a world away from what he was singing about with Yachts whilst supporting the Sex Pistols in the late 1970s, but ironically the song is just as valid to mid-life as, let’s say “Suffice to Say” was to youth back then. In his introduction, Henry confessed that “in Amy, you are witnessing an artist at the top of her game, but with me you are witnessing a nob head who can’t sing, whose guitar playing’s crap, who can’t remember the lyrics but luckily has Pete with him”. His self-depreciating wit is just one of the aspects of Henry Priestman, who you instantly warm to upon meeting him. Starting with “What You Doin’ With Me”, Henry soon found his pace and seemed to relax into a set that included both “Ideal World” and “Born Again” from The Christians days, together with a selection from the new album. “It’s Called a Heart”, “The Idiot” and the crowd pleasing rant “No to the Logo”, which had half of the audience checking that the labels on their designer trainers and handbags weren’t showing, proved that Henry continues to write potentially enduring songs. The album has already produced three download only singles “Grey’s the New Blonde”, “Don’t You Love Me No More” and “He Ain’t Good Enough For You”, each contending for top place on the ‘most radio friendly’ list, and each one winning hands down. All three songs were included in the set tonight, which culminated in a couple of songs featuring Amy Wadge as she returned to the stage to join both Henry and Pete on “Searching for Angels” and the infectious “The Coolest Dance (Irish Jig)”. Tonight The Duchess witnessed two outstanding song-writers at the top of their game, despite what Henry says. Proof that the former Christian is still a valuable asset to contemporary song making is the fact that at 53, he is the oldest artist ever to be signed to the prestigious Island Records label, where he can now happily rub shoulders with the likes of Amy Winehouse and Sugababes, write suitably mature lyrics to his heart’s content and get cracking on Chronicles II.