By Betsy Everett
The latest offering from Askrigg-based Dales Events – an afternoon of jazz and blues in the local brewery – was remarkable on so many levels.
Here we were in a factory unit on an industrial estate on the outskirts of a small dales village, listening to live music from performers of such calibre that they could have been appearing on almost any stage in the world. And frequently have.
“The right song sung in the right way can change the world,” said blues singer Kiki de Ville in her introduction to a matchless performance with pianist Alex Hill who, incredibly, she had not met before the event, not even to rehearse.
She might have added that it can also transform a space. With breeze blocks and shiny metal beer vats for a backdrop, even a bird swooping up to the corrugated ceiling, as the music worked its magic you could imagine it was a carefully crafted set, designed to recreate the authentic feel of a small-town brewery in a New Orleans nightclub.
Opening with Gershwin’s languid and leisurely ‘Summertime’ proved an act of hope over reality, considering the cool and blustery conditions prevailing outside the open-doored venue. But Kiki – known to UK audiences mainly for her appearances on BBC’s The Voice, and as a judge on the prime-time show All Together Now with former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell – carried it off to perfection. Born in Australia, now resident in the UK having travelled the world to learn and practise her craft, she is well-used to the vagaries of an English summer.
It is impossible to convey the warmth of her stage presence: her ability to hold the audience in her hand from the minute she stepped out, not just through her remarkable and powerful voice, but the force of her personality.
Her final number, ‘Natural Woman,’ had a special poignancy and significance: she recalled that as a talented 19-year-old back home in Australia, auditioning for a tribute band, she was rejected with the crushing words of a crass producer: “You’re good. But – we need to keep the line-up attractive.” It knocked her confidence for 20 years. The song was her affirmation.
“We should be careful of our words,” she told a rapt audience.
Self-effacing yet quietly confident, Manchester-based Martin Connor – “the son of a preacher man” – had followed the route of so many American soul singers, with roots firmly in the Pentecostal gospel tradition, and music in his soul.
His talent shone through in the varied and jam-packed set, ending the first session with my personal favourite, Otis Redding’s ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.’ With jazz guitarist James Girling accompanying, there was a comfortable familiarity and obvious respect between the two, exchanging low-key banter and never missing a cue in a stunning, nearly 90-minute, performance.
Pianist Ben Lawrence providing some wonderful mood music between sets, didn’t really get the attention he deserved, and though it was understandable in such a relaxed and informal setting, it was still a shame.
Just as we thought the afternoon couldn’t get any better there was a final surprise, not least for the denim-clad girl I’d assumed to be part of the back-up team, who sprang to the stage on an introduction from Kiki.
Ionica Adriana, Romanian-born singer, Radio York presenter and fellow All Together Now judge (“If I’d known I was performing today I wouldn’t have dressed like a ten-year-old boy”) took the place by storm with a fabulous rendition of the Leonard Cohen classic ‘ Hallelujah.’ It was such a delight and so totally unexpected, and the audience loved it.
The collaboration between Anita (Tippy) Watson, and brewery owner Rob Wiltshire who has even named a beer, Tippy’s Tipple, in her honour, is proving a winning formula. This was the second Dales Event – there was a comedy night in April – and it almost certainly won’t be the last.
The next comedy evening will be this Friday, June 14, at The Falls, Aysgarth, at 8pm, starring Steve Shanyaski, Bill Woolland, Nina Gilligan and Anthony J. Brown. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07768 848119.