Anna Coogan (with Daniele Fiaschi)

Live Review | Various Venues | Review by Allan Wilkinson

To promote her latest album release The Wasted Ocean, Vermont-born singer-songwriter Anna Coogan teams up with Italian guitarist Daniele Fiaschi for the start of her current European autumn tour.  With a couple of solo gigs already under her belt, one in Scotland and the second in Ireland, Anna hooked up with the guitarist for the first of their collaborative gigs at the quietly quaint Upper Sheringham Village Hall, on the northern tip of Norfolk on Saturday night.  Having already collaborated together on the new album, with Danny contributing to four of the songs, including “Streamers”, “Blood on the Sails” and “Life in a Peaceful New World”, the two musicians brought some of their symbiotic magic to a small village stage on Saturday night and an even smaller one on in Sheffield on Sunday.  I was invited to join Anna and Danny for the first part of their tour, acting as temporary road manager, making sure the two of them arrived safely at both venues over the weekend.  It was fun to hang out with these two generous musicians, both of whom appeared relaxed as they shared stories, songs and experiences, whilst we headed north from the airport to the seaside town of Sheringham.  Lady GPS was up to her usual mischief, by taking us up a dead end dirt track at one point, but this just added to the fun aspect of touring.  Fortunately, for the entire weekend, the UK was bathed in unseasonal good weather, with Saturday apparently breaking all records for October, which made the experience even more enjoyable.  Performing two sets at the Upper Sheringham Village Hall, the two musicians demonstrated a clear understanding of the material, with Danny repeating some of the playing he did on the album, but also re-arranging for guitar some of the other parts, whether they were originally played on guitar or entirely different instruments, the fiddle part of “Come the Wind, Come the Rain” for instance.  Starting with “Back to the World”, from Anna’s previous album The Nocturnal Among Us (2010), Anna soon found her stride by performing songs from both albums such as “Crooked Sea”, “Coins on Your Eyes” and “So Long Summertime” from the earlier album and “Love Without Strings” and “Come Ashore Love” from the new album.  Anna also performed her version of the old Gordon Lightfoot song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” as well as the traditional Irish folk song “Rattling Bog”, dedicated to the singer’s sister.  In his native Italy, the Rome-based guitarist is a familiar figure on the rock scene, pretty much used to playing 5,000 seater venues with various pop, rock and indie outfits.  By his own admission, it’s playing with the likes of Anna that really interests Danny, whose emotive textural guitar playing adds atmosphere to the songs.  During Anna’s eight-minute rendition of Phil Ochs’ “The Crucifixion” for instance, Danny creates an eerie musical landscape upon which Anna rests the poignant lyrics, from the whistling of the wind to almost Gregorian chants.  Support for the concert came courtesy of local band The Fifth Watch, with a set of familiar contemporary songs such as John Prine’s “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”, Tim O’Brien’s “Forty-Nine Keep on Talkin’” and The Band’s “The Weight”.  From the sun-drenched beaches of north Norfolk, we headed next to a house concert on the outskirts of Sheffield, which was jokingly billed as ‘Paulstock’.  Paul Licence, a local journalist, was so impressed with Anna Coogan’s last appearance in the area back in 2010, when she appeared at the Wombwell Wheelhouse, that he was determined to see her again on his own turf, although I doubt back then he realised it would be in his own front room.  Repeating much of the set from the previous night, with the addition of the requested and highly infectious “Dreaming My Life Away”, Anna and Danny performed a much more intimate concert in Paul’s living room, filled with family, friends and the dog.  Danny once again created some highly atmospheric and spacious guitar accompaniment with a very much turned down amp for the occasion.  Danny later confessed that this was his favourite setting, where he could really bring the volume down to almost nothing in order to convey the required mood for the song.  Anna delivered her songs with an assured confidence and brought back to South Yorkshire, some of that sparkle that made us all warm to her a year ago.  Both performances concluded with Anna’s re-written version of Leadbelly’s “Goodnight Irene”, in memory of the hurricane that devastated her home town recently. A thoroughly enjoyable weekend for Norfolkers and Sheffielders alike.