Sing me a song
Going to Gigs
Wednesday 18th October 2017
by Trevor Locke
In this issue: We celebrate the singers, songwriters and solo artists who have wowed the fans of Leicester over the years.
It does seem, at times, that music is all about bands. Even so, there have been many solo artists whose music has been loved by Leicester fans in their hundreds. This article celebrates those singular individuals whose skills and artistic abilities have been outstanding, in recent years.
This is not in any order of importance. In fact, I am tempted to write about them in alphabetical order, just in case someone thinks I rate some more highly than others. Ranking their abilities is not my concern; my task here is only to remember them and to share those recollections that stand out for me. I will surely write more about singers again in the future; so this is not in any way a definitive list but the first sample of people who have enriched Leicester’s music scene over the years.
I have always been a keen admirer and advocate of the solo artist. So much so, that I put on a series of shows called Singers of Distinction. These shows brought together some of the outstanding singers and songwriters of the day. The final part of this series got into this magazine (the earlier ones being published on the Arts in Leicester website); our show on Wednesday 21st August was published on here and you can read it.
Following our series of showcase events last year, ArtsIn Productions ran its 2013 series of shows featuring Singers of Distinction. The final show of the current season was held on Wednesday 21st August. Last year, performances were arranged at the Shed, The Soundhouse and the Musician, culminating in a finale event at Curve. We said ‘All 28 artists who performed at the shows were carefully selected as being those whose work merits the accolade ‘distinction’ – those who stand out as singers, songwriters and performers.’ Adding ‘All our artists were selected from those who currently live in our local area or were previously resident here. Our mission is to celebrate and showcase the musical talent of our locality.’ Some of the artists who performed at Singers of Distinction 2012 were: Cassius Povey, Chris Ostler, Daz Tonge, Elizabeth Cornish, Jake Manning, Martin Luke-Brown, Matthew R, Michael Vickers, Prash Gor, Siobhan Mazzie, Skunk Boy Project (Nate Swettenham) and Steven Faulkner. Many others were on that list but those should give you a flavour of what the whole series was about.
Here is a sample of the artists we have written about over the years; a few of them are still performing to this day.
Siobhan performed at Glastonbudget festival last weekend (2012) where she was an instant hit with the audience. Our reviewer at the festival wrote of her set: ‘this gifted guitarist and singer performed a brilliant set of well-written songs. An outstanding guitar player, Siobhan used a mixture of styles including fingerpicking and tapping to create a unique sound to her performance. A really good voice finished off the solo act well, her voice hitting every tone effortlessly, portraying the lyrics beautifully … very talented and quite unique.’ So it was an honour to have her with us tonight, to repeat the experience of hearing her phenomenal singing and witness the panache and passion of her stage performance, at close hand. That was an account of the June session of Singers of Distinction, back in 2012. Reporting on the Riverside festival in 2012 we said: ‘Leicester singer Siobhan Mazzie has had a good year so far. Her impressive singing and songwriting talents have been on show from large festivals to intimate gigs in local venues. Everyone agrees that she is now one of the most celebrated female vocalists in our local area. Her performance in the acoustic tent today was particularly enjoyable.’ Mazzei continues today, to amaze the music fans of Leicester; now with her band. Always a memorable occasion.
Lord of the Loops, as he was once known, Carlos Stein is one of Leicester’s more unusual acts; if not unique. His amusing songs about life and people have delighted audiences for many years. In 2012, we said: ‘The evening’s varied set of musical confections saw Carlos Stein come to the stage with his harmonicas, bass guitar and loop pedals. Carlos’s act is, if not unique, then certainly very unusual. With a cocktail of electro, blues, post-punk and rock, his alternative-style songs are rich in cynical beat-poetry. Carlos sang into the mic, recording the vocal phrases and then looped them back to form all or part of the musical accompaniment to his singing.’ In more recent time Carlos formed a band and played with them in many parts of the UK.
I have several pleasant memories of singer and bandleader Gemma Lakin. I remember her singing at the Glastonbudget festival in 2011. The following year I saw her in the Town Hall Square performing for a charity event in aid of the Red Cross. She was at the Oxjam festival in 2010. It was, therefore, a pleasure to see her again when she played earlier this year at The Shed, with her band – The KGB Jazz band. The report of the 2010 Oxjam festival was been preserved here
Grace Petrie is one of my favourite singer, song-writers. Though, I appreciate she might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Her songs sometimes reflect her left-wing political views. But she is always incisive and her lyrics are ripe with sharp political comments. We included her in our review of the year for 2016. We reported on Grace’s performance at the Handmade festival in 2016: ‘Playing at Handmade for the fourth time, Grace Petrie is always a highlight of the festival. One of Leicester’s widely celebrated singers and songwriters. Grace describes her work as being “predominantly left-wing protest songs.” On stage with her today two musicians, who also sang with her.’ At this show, she was with her band The Benefits Culture. My report quoted a previous comment: ‘I rate Grace Petrie as being one of Leicester’s finest solo artists. A friend and collaborator of Billy Bragg, her songs are often political and she refers to herself as a “protest singer” but, unlike a lot of other protesters in music, Petrie is also one of the most entertaining and personable acts you will see on the local circuit.’
When I saw Prash Gor for the very first time I was not that impressed by his singing skills. But, in this job, you have to see past the imperfections to what lies behind them, in this case, raw talent and bags of potential. As I followed his career over the years, he became more and more impressive. He played at the Summer Sundae weekender festival in 2012. I said ‘One of the new, young singer, songwriters who has risen fast this year is Prash Gor. Since his early, tentative steps towards the public that we saw in the SoundHouse open-mic nights, Prash has attracted a lot of attention from promoters and gig organisers and has steadily grown in confidence and popularity. With his female backing vocalist, we heard two beautifully harmonised voices delivering sweetly beguiling music.
Prash’s silky smooth vocal tones and intensely evocative lyrics were wonderful.’
I saw Prash at the Simon Says festival in 2015; I thought ‘Opening the outdoor stage, Leicester-born singer Prash Gor filled the garden with his stunning voice, amusing anecdotes and enchanting songs. Well done to the BBC for introducing people to two very talented local artists at this event. He is remembered well here at MIL; we discovered him one night at an open-mic event being extremely nervous at performing a couple of songs but since then has gone on to become a very confident and successful artist. He enchanted the audience today with his sumptuous vocals and amazing stories.’
Martin Luke Brown
Occasionally you come across an artist who is just immediately amazing. Some of our local singers gave gone on to successful careers in music. Being at the Simon Says festival in 2016 gave me the chance to say ‘One of Leicester’s celebrated singers and songwriters, Martin Luke Brown was on the Indoor Stage. Referring to other comments I had made, I continued ‘I had not seen Martin Luke Brown for a long time. From the very first bars of his first song, Martin’s magical voice filled the room with brilliance. One of Leicester’s most successful singers and songwriters, Martin is the living proof that it can be done.
Playing keyboard and singing, Martin gave a performance that was sensational, a set that had all the hallmarks of the MLB experience: passion commitment and energy.’ My knowledge of this local artist goes back to about 2010: ‘Martin Luke Brown is a young singer who now lives in Leicester; we have listened to some of his recordings and have been impressed. A good quality voice with a vibrant delivery. Check out his Myspace tracks; we think you will agree!‘ That was in Arts in Leicester magazine.
It was both exciting and a great privilege to see one of Leicester’s most celebrated singers recently when I was at the Y Theatre. Kevin Hewick is a singer and songwriter of immense talent. ‘Probably the most famous and widely celebrated of today’s singers, Kevin Hewick was stunningly good. His song A Young Man’s Dream of Revolution, from his album The Heat of Molten Diamonds, was phenomenal. Hewick is not only a fine singer but an accomplished guitarist. His set was the highlight of the show. An artist of extraordinary musical ability.’ That was my comment about Hewick when he appeared at the Y Theatre in September. The full review is on MIL.
One of the most exciting young male artists of recent times, Sam Idwal was a huge asset to Leicester’s music scene, when he was here. Now based in London, his career continues. Another name that occupies that league is Reuben Wisner. In fact, I once said: Wisner is one of the best newcomers to the Leicester music scene and, in my opinion, he fills the gap that was left when Samuel Idwal moved away to London.’ It took me a while to figure out that he changed his name and was originally known as Sam Jones. In 2014 Keith Jobey wrote: ‘Samuel Idwal (Sam Jones) gets the evening off to a gentle start. The chatter in the room quickly and respectively quietens and remains so throughout his set. He has a pleasant, enjoyable voice, reminiscent of an acoustic Morrissey, particularly during Pile Of Bones. Being of North Eastern descent, I enjoy his song Cobbles about the streets of Durham. A song inspired by his time at university there.’ What made Idwal stand out what as fine ability to write striking and imaginative lyrics. A poet of considerable ability. His voice was delicate and full emotion, as he sang.
Like Kevin Hewick, there are artists whose name defines Leicester’s musical scene and heritage. Carol Leeming is a singer, songwriter, jazz artist, poet, … the list of accolades is a long one. There have been many times when I have seen her perform, both music and spoken word. She is one of the great characters of the city and a Fellow of the Royal Society. I remember her performance at the Strawberry Fields festival in 2011 – ‘Jazz and blues singer Carol Leeming is one of the great diva songsters of the Leicester scene. Carol’s considerable vocals were accompanied by guitarist Paddy Hodgkinson as they delighted the audience at the OT Lounge stage. An artist of formidable artistic stature, Carol’s presence at the festival was a star attraction. In fact, I had seen her a couple of days earlier at the Basement where she performed an amazing set with her band The Random Acts of Senseless Beauty. It was a wonderful night of top-class music, so it was completely satisfying to hear her again at this afternoon’s performance. I particularly enjoyed her calypso song, her song for vegetarians and her “eastern European song”, full of enchanting gipsy colours. She ended her set with the iconic St. Louis Blues.’
Legend. What other words could be used to describe Rhett Barrow? A singer of extraordinary character and presence. A songwriter of striking imagination and impact. A bandleader. A guitarist. A harmonica player. A news clip from Arts in Leicester in 2013 said ‘Leicester singer and songwriter Rhett Barrow has released a video for his song and said “… A little video I made for the title track of my new album Stormy Skies with some footage I shot in Amsterdam and Leicester.”
The Video of the Stormy Skies Track is on YouTube.
One of his most memorable songs. Rhett’s brother Nile Barrow is also a singer and member of the band By The Rivers.
Mahalia is one of Leicester’s superstars. We saw her in August; we said: ‘One of Leicester’s foremost singers and songwriters, Mahalia gave a captivating performance of her songs on the main stage. I knew about the phenomenal Mahalia from some of her previous appearances. At 14 years of age, she is an astonishingly talented singer. Her delightful, colourful vocal tones carried her first song into the audience, lulling them with its sweet, darkly sensitive tones. Mahalia is an artist I have known for some time. I saw her at Summer Sundae festival: She then went on to deliver some more upbeat, vibrant songs using her remarkable voice to decorate her singing with sensational arabesques. The third song was laced with sultry, scintillating acoustic imagery, backed by her musicians with a Latin and swing feel, it brought considerable appreciation from the audience. Coming from a musical family, Mahalia’s music is highly likeable and her set today was absolutely enchanting.’ [Arts in Leicester magazine, 2012]
Our magazine featured her show at the Cookie in 2014. ‘After the show, Mark Granger talked to Mahalia
The Cookie is almost full tonight and 15-year-old Leicester singer-songwriter Mahalia takes to the stage for the first of 2014’s Mahalia Presents concerts with the assured stage presence of a seasoned performer. The last two years have been something of a whirlwind for Mahalia, after the release of her 2012 E.P- ‘Headspace‘ – she says “things just sped up”; Which is somewhat of an understatement, last year saw her on the same bill as Rizzle Kicks and Labrinth at the Royal Albert Hall, add to that, support slots with Ed Sheeran, Emeli Sandé and Laura Mvula and Mahalia has notched the kind of experience that would make performers twice her age jealous. So she must have been some kind of childhood prodigy then? Well, not exactly.“When I was younger I was really into a lot of sports,” says Mahalia, “I never got into picking up an instrument or writing songs until I was like, twelve” Which is not really one foot in the grave when it comes to starting music but it’s not as if she didn’t have the influence around her either. “Both my parents are musicians (and) they were always gigging so I was constantly around someone on stage” and she also credits her school music teacher saying she “got me into writing, playing guitar and singing.” Mahalia has been away from Leicester for a while, so she and her parents sat down and thought of something to do in their hometown and Mahalia Presents was born. “This was the best way to bring in a crowd from where I’m from so that people I grew up around and friends and family could see what was going on and how I was developing. The whole ‘Mahalia Presents‘ thing is also a way to bring artists from outside (Leicester) and bring them here.”
Prior to that, Mark reported: ‘Tonight’s curator Mahalia is next, accompanied by her dad James on guitar and percussionist Zizi on, well, percussion. Mahalia’s set is varied, veering between poppier moments like ‘Boomerang Boy‘ and more soulful pieces such as ‘Let The World See The Light‘.‘ Like Matt [Henshaw] before her, Mahalia gets the crowd on her side early on and commands a stage presence that belies her young age. As a result, the crowd is silent and attentive for the gentle acoustic pop of ‘Marry Me‘ but claps along enthusiastically during the as-yet-untitled ‘Clappy Song‘.
One of the male artists who has stood out over the years is Steve Faulkner. Discovered in 2007, seeing Faulkner on stage singing, for the first time, was a jaw-dropping experience:
Set in Stone
Four member rock band with a metal and classic rock edge. They stand out as having one of the best vocalists in Leicester/shire – Steve Faulkner who is one hell of a good singer. Steve sings with the band but also has a career as a soloist. Backed by three superbly good musicians, this is one of the most promising of our local hard rock bands. Hard-working and dedicated guys, they have recently recorded an EP. Since their formation in 2004, the band has changed the lineup a couple of times, but now they are offering some epic gigs, with their melodic songs, classic guitar sounds, searing riffs, chugging basslines and pounding drums. Always a winner at every gig they play, Set In Stone is one of the ace bands within its genre and style.
Steve Faulkner – stunning – a brilliant artist who put on a thrilling set of his own songs and some fine interpretation of covers including Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” – Steve’s interpretation is miles better than the original.
In January 2011, Faulkner played at the Musician. Arts in Leicester reported: Steve came with his guitar and a unique style of music you would say is his own. You could hear influences of everything in there – Latin, Folk – with an upbeat tempo, perfectly fused together to produce some very pleasing sounds. You couldn’t help but feel the emotions of the music as it was performed so enthusiastically, yet effortlessly. The performance was very natural and his voice, a very pleasing mature, mid-range sound that you could listen to forever. Another 20-minute performance that went in a flash!
In recent times, Faulkner has pursued a career as a solo singer. August 2014. We commented, ‘Singer Steve does a three-hour non-stopper of popular songs. The number of singers who have played non-stop sets for up to three hours can be counted on the fingers of one hand and still have thumbs to spare. At festivals, a set by Faulkner is a show-stopping moment. August 2016
On a small stage in the garden, singer Steve is giving the crowd an impressive performance. Singing some of his owns songs and some well-known covers, Steve Faulkner has the audience enthralled and entranced. As Stevie Jones (he of the Wildfire Sessions) said when he introduced the Leicester singer, Steve Faulkner is something of a legend and added he is “a lovely fellow.” Straight away, Faulkner gets into his first song. People who had not seen him before are immediately impressed by the quality of his voice and the agility of his guitar playing. For those of us who had been blessed to have seen his performances many, many times before, there could have been no better way to start a day of music than with this versatile and splendid performer. Faulkner attacks his songs with energy and anger. This is an artist that really knows what musical performance is all about. Looking at the faces of the people in the audience, I see those fixed gazes that indicate intense captivation.
Another local artist who is noted for his considerable achievements, Steve Faulkner entertained the crowd to a variety of covers and a couple of his own songs. His cover of Eminem’s Without Me, (163 million hits) was particularly likeable, its closely packed lyrics and fast-paced tune being admirably mastered by the multi-talented Mr.Faulkner.
Not all of the solo artists are singers; rap and hip-hop have played an equally important part in our city’s cultural mix. Artists like Luke Bingham, KY, Matthew R, Jonezy, Jermaine (Jamster) Jones, Ricky C, all brought their own individual style to the stages of the city.
Arts in Leicester magazine frequently published articles extolling the virtues of our city’s singers. Take this article for example from Friday 21st October 2011:
Leicester’s got singers
Leicester is a city of song. There was no better way of discovering how vibrant is Leicester’s musical culture than to spend a night with a line up of fine vocalists. It’s Friday and we are at one of the many live music shows put on by The Shed, one of the city’s longest-running live music venues. As we walk into the main room, on stage Sarah Bird is singing, filling the room with her richly vibrant voice. She was until recently the lead singer of a local band called SugaBeat, much loved for its entertaining and popular funk and rock tunes. The guests are seated in front of the stage at low tables on which small candle lights flicker. All are transfixed by the delightful music flowing from the speakers, either side of the stage. Otherwise, the room is illuminated by the bright lights from the bar and the glow from the stage. Leicester singers are both acoustic soloists or front vocalists in the various bands. Often artists will do both performances with their bands and solo appearances. There are a good many of them and we have catalogued them in our page on Leicester singers (you can find the link to it at the end of this article.) Some are well known and established; others are just starting out. Their work covers the whole range of music styles and idioms, from folk to urban, from rock to reggae. A few of them have been signed to record labels but for most, they have to fit their music into the rest of their lives. Tonight, guests at The Shed were treated to a series of quality artists, performances with amazingly good voices, performing highly listenable songs. Whilst the Yeoman Street music venue is better known for its rock band gigs, it has always been a keen supporter of the acoustic scene and regularly offers nights where soloists and duos can show off their talents in front of the mic.’
It went on to say,
There are many other venues offering weekly line ups of talented singers. The SoundHouse, in the Cultural Quarter, hosts a weekly night for singers and acoustic artists. Under the curatorship of singer Rhett Barrow, Tuesday evenings are a must-do night for those on Leicester’s acoustics circuit.
So that is my gallery of star singers; many more have graced the stages of Leicester over the years and I dare say I will write more about them in the future. As for today, we have a page called Singers From Leicester 2017.
If you want to stroll down memory lane and see who we listed in 2011, here is a print out of our listing of singers for that year from Arts in Leicester magazine. (It takes a long time to download though.)