It was great to be back at the wonderful Howard Assembly Room after a three-month enforced break. No, I wasn’t banned, although goodness knows why not. Anyway, the reason I was there was to get back into the swing of things by seeing David Brewis perform his new album, The Soft Struggles.
I have to admit that I was not familiar with Mr Brewis’ music but when the publicity blurb draws comparisons with Van Morrison and Colin Blunstone I knew I had to become acquainted with the chap’s work.
Before the main event, there was a set by the Norwegian singer/songwriter, Juni Habel. She lives in the small village of Rakkestad, south of Oslo, in an old converted schoolhouse owned by her grandmother which they occupy with their close family.
She took to the stage with her guitar and played some of the haunting songs from her new album, Carvings. They exuded an air of sadness except for one called Little Twirl which was about her small siblings. The obvious comparison to draw is with any of the female folk artists of the 60s and 70s, except that there is not the range of tempi that you will get from Joan Baez or Judy Collins. Regardless of that, her set was a very pleasant way to start the show, and the only spoken interlude was much wittier and upbeat than the music.
So, it was on to the main event and a total change of mood, with the stage now occupied by Sarah Hayes on piano and flute, not at the same time I hasten to add, Faye MacCalman on saxophone and clarinet, again one at a time, John Pope on double bass, with Peter Brewis, David’s brother, on drums. In addition to the core ensemble there were strings, The Crude Tarmac Quartet, who obviously spend most of their time on the road, and vocals from Eve Cole.
David Brewis on guitar, and band
The album was recorded at Field Music Studio in Sunderland, with several of the tracks being created and recorded in a single day. The modus operandi is that the musicians get together to record songs they have never heard before, just given a chord sheet, a set of lyrics, a brief chat about the tempo and off they go. I must say that the end product sounded far more meticulously put together than that, which speaks volumes about the chemistry between the musicians.
The tunes and songs have a soft core jazz feel to them interspersed with the odd harder arrangement. As the album is not long enough to provide music for the full duration of the set he included a few tracks from previous ones including a Billy Strayhorn composition. We were told that David Brewis used this to ‘dip his toe into the wold of jazz but ended up with frostbite!’ He definitely had it sorted on this occasion.
Another ‘foreigner’ in the set was one he wrote for the Durham Coal Miners’ Gala to be played along with a brass band which he had now arranged for the string quartet. A quantum leap which worked really well.
Taking the well deserved applause.
I enjoyed the evening very much and will look out for any return visit to the venue. His only other concert I could find is at Kings Place – very appropriate – London on 3rd June.
To find out what else is coming up at Howard Assembly Room please go to https://www.operanorth.co.uk/event-tag/har/
Feature image provided by Howard Assembly Room. Photographs by Stan Graham