Monday 26 May 2014


Live Review

Newhampton Arts Centre

A showcase of acoustic musicians from the Black Country and wider Midlands showed that not only is there's a wealth of talent out there waiting to be tapped, but that the studio of the struggling Newhampton Arts Centre in Dunkley Street, Whitmore Reans has the capacity and resources to be one of Wolverhampton's top live music venues.

Lauren Pryke
So what's holding it back? The cutting of funds which is hitting its already stretched resources; a lack of promotion and the unfortunate position that it's one of the city's hidden gems.
Individual event promotion such as Baddie's WTLGO acoustic night can fill the place both with a paying audience and a good breadth of musical talent.
This was the case recently when six local musicians were brought together for a bill which was only £5 to get in.
Lauren Pryke, an 18-year-old indie pop singer/songwriter and guitarist from Birmingham opened proceedings with songs such as Take Me Home in which she showed off her skills on the strings.
There was a little nervousness in her performance, at times her voice seemed a little shaky and towards the end of her set, by her own admission, it was starting to break up.
She did seem to struggle at the top end of her range but it wasn't easy for any of the acts who were having to battle over the noise of a less than attentive crowd which got bigger and louder as the night progressed.
Pryke went through a good selection of her repertoire which included a cover version of the Foo Fighters' Times Like This and one of her own compositions Civilisations, which sounded very much like it came from the stable of the extremely talented The Staves.
Pryke's voice was at its most confident with this one and you could hear the undertone of strength which her voice obviously has.
She followed this with an unapologetic acoustic version of Katie Perry's The One That Got Away and she did a damn good job. It would be a fair bet that people who wouldn't necessarily listen to Ms Perry would enjoy this version. She followed this with another of her own creations, Sharks. This one really did show that she has a full range in her singing and has a more than respectable talent as a songwriter.
Tom Simmons and Clayton Cross
The Brummie songstress carried the confidence of already being well established on the local circuit and has worked alongside some impressive artists including Kelly Clarkson, Mumford & Sons and The Killers.
Her last song, a cover version of The Killers' Mr Brightside showed her vocal dexterity and even though it was a fairly easygoing ballad her singing kept the machine gun-pace of the original.
Lauren gave up the stage to another well-established Midlander fellow Brummie Sean Flood.
Flood's style was much more in your face opening with Wishing. His voice is quite nasal and he seemed at times to be fighting a sound battle with his own guitar. Whether by accident or design he does still have the roughness of a busker in his performance. His voice is not the most melodious and at times he seemed to move way too far out of his comfort zone. His enthusiasm was firing on all cylinders but at times his aggressive guitar style seemed to take over and almost go out of control.
Flood is innovative with his guitar and tries to get the most out of his strings but it doesn't always quite work. With Jazz Hates this was evident, where his voice and his guitar seemed, at times, to be in conflict.
He did do a pretty respectable cover of The Specials' The Rat Race it was probably the best of his set, and he did a sterling job considering by now the noise from the chattering audience was pretty intrusive.
Something Inside was his own work and you could hear the influence of at least one of the bands he admires, Squeeze, as he sang and showed off his considerable guitar skills, this was followed in a similar vein by another of his own compositions A Tale of Two Different Stories.
Flood is not very easy on the ear and you can feel all the different influences in his music because they never quite harmonise so you feel you are listening to different bits of songs bolted together.
His cover version of  Aztec Camera's Somewhere In My Heart was not easy to listen to at all, his voice broke into near-shouting in the top end of his range but when he came down slightly and eased off you could hear a soft and clear voice that is really strong but subtle.
There seemed to be unnecessary harshness in his playing whether this was to counteract the noise of the audience is hard to tell but it was evident in his cover version of Bizarre Love Triangle from New Order.
He finished his set with another of his own songs Biscuit Barrel which had more of a bluesy feel to it and on this occasion his guitar playing outdid his singing which had a real aggressive edge to it.
Shannon Wheatley
Clayton Cross, who was on his home turf, took to the stage with Tom Simmons from Walsall. They opened with a Kasabian cover and what became clear right from the start is they were much better guitarists than they are singers.
Cross can hit some right notes occasionally but Simmons should stick to instrumentals. They are good guitarists, there is no two ways about it but if they are going to be working together then they should consider bringing a dedicated singer in and they should stick to the instrumentals and perhaps occasional backing vocals.
Their cover version of Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd was simply spoiled by Cross' singing and his version of The Beatles' Help and then You're Too Good To Be True was like karaoke down the pub. Simmons took over for one of their own songs and, not to labour the point, he should have stuck to playing guitar he is by no stretch of the imagination a singer. He had a second bite at the cherry with The Libertines' Don't Look Back Into the Sun but it got no better.
Without doubt the highlight of the night was Shannon Wheatley, from Sedgley.
It was her first gig but you would not have known it other than she kept her head bowed because she had her songs written down in front of her.
But her performance opening with Kodaline's All I Want was strong and definite and with more experience she is destined to be become a singer in big demand.
Her voice has clarity, strength and a gentle vulnerability which produces a gorgeous sound that was a mixture of Dolores O'Riordan, Sinead O'Connor and Cyndi Lauper.
She followed her impressive opener with another Kodaline cover, Talk, and even over the noise of the packed room her voice soared clear and strong with what seemed so little effort. It won't be long before Wheatley will be headlining at concerts.
Andy Bowater
With another cover, this time from from Lucy Rose and Be Alright, which fans of The Vampire Diaries will recognise, she showed just how versatile and luscious her voice is.
She brought out the first song she wrote,You'll Be Okay, and it was more than OK, if this is her starting point then Wheatley is destined for big things.
Her singing is so mature, so strong and so colourful and a delight to listen to. Even more impressive was her newest song, Ashes, which she wrote last week and she apologised for it maybe being a bit raw but its "raw" state was better than some heavily produced songs.
Following on from that was Andy Bowater who produced a really distinctive sound using just his guitar, a drummer who was extremely complementary without being overpowering or intrusive, and his voice. His smooth and almost spiritual singing mixed with the beats and percussion took on an ethereal quality.
With just the subtle use of the drum kit, his guitar and gentle voice Bowater produces a distinctive sound which is very easy on the ear and has the quality to take you places you have only imagined. He is a man of few words on stage preferring instead for his talent to speak for itself and speak it does.
Headliner, Wolverhampton's own Dave Boddison took to the stage with all the confidence you would expect from someone who is seasoned in gigging around the region.
Straight away he showed his impressive guitar picking and distinctive voice with songs such as Pockets. Boddison showed how easy he makes it look as he harmonises his lyrics with his guitar playing.
Boddison has a silky and likeable manner of singing and his voice has a light texture which makes you feel better for listening to him.
His range is impressive and his ability to play with words is a delight to listen to.
He topped off what was, over all, a real showcase of the type of talent which is right on your doorstep and with venues such as the arts centre, given the right support and backing, they can make the city a thriving hub for new and exciting music.

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