Bronwynne Brent

Live Review | The Atkinson, Southport | Review by Steve Henderson

Following a blast of winter the week before that caused me to miss her in Saltaire, I was eager to get out and about to catch Bronwynne Brent in Southport. A few years back, The Atkinson was converted from a building with two performance spaces into a multi-purpose venue with museum, library, coffee shop, you name it. A real treasure for the town. The evening was a Grateful Fred presentation and it was slightly disappointing that their band didn’t open the evening as advertised on the venue website. Though going straight into the other support act, Scaredycats, followed by two sets from Bronwynne Brent turned out to be a better option for the night. It was one contradiction in an evening with several contradictory ideas, as we’ll see. Scaredycats opened the evening with a line-up of drums, bass, keyboard and guitar to parade songs from their debut release Dumb Animals amongst others. The lead singer, Jim Pearson, declared them an ‘acoustic combo’ for the evening which probably explains why there were times when, musically, some added muscle would have been welcome. Sometimes, it felt like the band needed to be let off its leash. Nevertheless, lyrically, their songs were articulate and thought provoking with an almost spoken vocal that got your attention. Following a break, Bronwynne Brent arrived on stage accompanied by the double bass playing Mario Caribe and electric guitarist Graeme Stephen. The set opened with her “Devil Again” song before following up with quite a few other self-penned songs from her last two records including “The Mirror”, “Don’t Tell Your Secrets To The Wind”, “Wrecked My Mind”, “Heartbreaker” and “Bulletproof”. Bronwynne’s on stage patter is part of the charm of the act as we listened to her talk a lot about not having talked a lot about her songs. Whilst sounding contradictory, as she pointed out, it’s true that the lyrics to her love songs speak for themselves. However, there are plenty of songs where their mystery is part of the allure too. In the second set, she started off with “The Ocean” though was soon delivering new material with “Big Talker” and “Lost in the Moonlight”. She’d mentioned in the first set that a new record was already recorded but it was unavailable. Now, in her typical self-depreciating but endearing way, she told the audience that the new record’s absence meant these UK dates were her ‘half-cocked tour’. However, there was nothing half-cocked about the music with Mario Caribe’s bass helping deliver the mood. Adding to this, sitting with one shoeless leg tucked under the other, Graeme Stephen jumped between sparse but flourishing guitar licks and trips up and down the fretboard that delivered rippling jazz tones. The latter sitting well with Brent’s stated desire from the stage to write some jazzier songs despite those past contradictory comparisons of her work to the jazzier moments of Amy Winehouse. As the second set developed, Bronwynne announced her enjoyment of covering others’ songs before launching into “Lily of The West”, a traditional folk song favoured by such as Joan Baez and Steve Forbert. This, before closing her set in typical contradictory, idiosyncratic style by opting for a new song, “Raincoat”, rather than one of her better known ones. Then, the trio returned to the stage to perform a blistering version of Bill Withers’ “Use Me” that gave the original a real run for its money. Don’t read my review wrongly here. I’m not crying out for less contradiction and more slavish following of the commercial and performance norms. Indeed, following your own muse is always a welcome feature of an artist’s work. The only contradiction of any concern is that an artist of such high quality as Bronwynne Brent is not better known. Something that is surely set to change with more performances like this.