by Owen Bailey
The Green Note in London’s Camden Town district is consistently voted one of the top gig venues, by performers and audiences alike, year after year. If you’ve ever attended the venue the accolade won’t come as any great surprise. With its stripped back floorboards, open face unrendered brickwork, it oozes warmth and comfort. Providing all the indications you’ve stumbled across an intimate venue with someone about to play a private gig.
Tonight, Gren Bartley and his trio take over the stage. His new album Magnificent Creatures has changed his profile and musical direction. Bartley has become a respected artist, making his name working on the UK folk scene, clocking up the miles appearing around the country in the guise of solo performer. It’s well documented his management and record labels future target is to have Bartley play with his band at larger venues, as they should.
“Home Soon” from his new album begins the evening. The timing, interplay and cross over melodies between Julia Disney (vocals, piano, violin) Sara Smout (vocals, cello) and Lydia Glanville (percussion) is immediate. Harmonies, harmonica and deft plucking of violin strings, compliment Bartley's story telling style. It’s a relatively small stage, but the power and muscularity of “Tall Wooden Walls” takes over the venue like a wave breaking onto the shore. Percussion gives a metronome up-tempo lead with cello and violin caressing each note throughout the song. Wonderful delivery.
Bartley tees up each song with a story or history on its construction. Some true, some fables. “Fair Share” turns the joy of pregnancy into despair as the mother is told she is terminally ill. Unfortunately, this is a true tale which only highlights his ability to scribe with maturity and sensibility on such a tragic subject. When children come along a relationship changes for ever as described in “This Changes Everything” a homage to Bartley’s newborn. I defy you not to shed a tear when hearing this song. Bow across cello strings evokes a sadness yet joy for his new arrival.
His first and second albums, Songs to Scythe Back the Overgrown and Winter Fires respectively, are clearly musical stepping stones to where Bartley is heading. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. A demonstration of his arrangement, musicianship and lyrical construction are packaged together in the closing song, “Nightingale.” Soaring classical overtones once again by strings, keyboard and percussion. The tone drops way down with Bartley finger picking in hoedown style.
Collectively the band add layer on layer of tempo, like a freight train gaining speed. His guitar solo which covers around two minutes, is played with a frenzy and pace rarely will you see live. His lyrics are Harry Chapin “Cat's in the Cradle” style with Laura Marling riffs thrown in for good measure. Banjo, slide guitar, acapella, harmonies, harmonica, cello, violin, keyboards, percussion. A cacophony of style, pace and expression. A special performance from a man on a musical mission.
Also see Gren Bartley's homepage
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