Live Review | House Concerts, York | Review by Allan Wilkinson
I thought I was pretty much used to house concerts, having been a regular visitor to the Wombwell Wheelhouse over the last couple of years, but my first visit to House Concerts – York made me realise over again that an initial visit to a new venue can be slightly daunting. You immediately find yourself shoulder to shoulder with complete strangers, squeezed into a small room with some overspill occupying the adjoining open kitchen area and staircase. No one is uncomfortable though, as the logistics seem to have been worked out in a similar fashion to those who came up with the idea of the sardine tin. Tonight I learned that this is hardly surprising, taking into account that more names were on the waiting list than those who had valid tickets. House concert seats in this particular cottage on the outskirts of York are seemingly in high demand. There’s no introductions at this house concert, or at least there wasn’t any tonight, presumably adopting the sort of attitude seen in many of the trendy venues these days; just let the artist pop on stage and introduce themselves. This may also be an attempt to shrug off the old folk club formula of tiresome MCs and raffles. Although I am totally in tune with the idea of giving the artists as much floor time as possible, I must confess I personally prefer just a simple ‘ladies and gentleman please welcome..’ not least to identify who’s in charge. Tonight there was an unexpected support act who introduced himself as Benjamin Francis Leftwich, also known in some circles as ‘Lights’, whose soulful performance reminded me of either of the brothers Tom Baxter and Charlie Winston, take your pick. With a gentle approach to guitar playing and a bunch of soul searching songs, Ben provided precisely the sort of opener that suits a good house concert, a gentle easing in with some thought provoking lyrics with a definite melancholy air. Leddra Chapman’s star is on the rise there’s no doubt and her album Telling Tales is receiving the acclaim it deserves, with quite a lot of airplay to boot, which is justly deserved as she is unquestionably a quality act. Leddra not only writes exceptionally good songs, she also has the vocal dexterity to match, which added to her natural attractiveness and bubbly personality makes the job of admiring her not exactly difficult; you can’t help but be drawn in. Returning to this venue and starting with her newest single release from the album, the punchy “A Little Easier”, Leddra demonstrated a confidence beyond her years. Joined by Jon Hall on guitar and Billy Hanwell on violin, Leddra’s uncluttered arrangements brought the best out in both the familiar songs and those not so well known, as well as those brand new. The only reason I could see for having amplification at the venue tonight was for balance, as the room was less than borderline size for a PA system. The piano, guitar, violin arrangement lends itself to uneven sonic distribution and therefore the sound system was probably necessary. Leddra’s set was made up mainly of songs from her debut album, but there was one or two new songs in the set, as well as some older songs that didn’t quite make the album. “Red Hair” for instance is a stunningly beautiful love song, with an unexpected ending, that showcases Leddra’s command over solo piano accompaniment. With the help of Leddra’s famous pink toy piano, “Summer Song” brought a taste of the eagerly awaited warm season right into the heart of Tony and Nicki’s living room, whilst “Story” once again reminded us all why we were here, to hear classic story telling in some of the most accessible pop songs available today. Marisa Jones and Michael Porter are for all intents and purposes the same delightful protagonists as Terry and Julie, two characters we all know and love from Ray Davies’ “Waterloo Sunset” but under different circumstances. “Wine Glass” is arguably Leddra’s most sensitive song, which demonstrates her ability to poetically describe the essence of love; the little idiosyncrasies of attraction, the curve of an eyelash, the way a glass is held. Beautiful. With some audience participation on “Picking Oranges”, the delighted singer helped bring together those of us who were still getting comfortable with all the shoulder rubbing and pretty soon strangers became friends and we were soon all united in song. With just the two songs written by other artists, or ‘cheeky covers’ as Leddra prefers to call them, Jamie T’s wordy “Shiela”, thankfully devoid of the estuary rap and house-wrecking monkeys and MGMT’s “Time To Pretend” with Billy’s sweet violin intro replacing the bubble and squeaks of the original, we had two surprising choices that had Ledra successfully skirting over the profanities. The majority of the set though, was made up of Leddra’s own distinctive songs and it has to be said, it’s with those songs that her strength lies and it was rewarding to discover that after such a fine debut album, they are still coming thick and fast.