Sunday 19th August

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Melissa James @ Green Note + CD Competition

| Culture, Hidden London, Music, Venues | 14/05/2014

Melissa James
Photo credit: Mike Watts
Rating:

First up was Vincent Burke in a natural, warm and easy, performance. What else would you expect when singing about pianos falling down the stairs! Somewhat in the style of old-school balladeers such as Jake Thackray and Tom Lehrer; funny, wise, droll and just jaunty enough to get your feet tapping. Plus a lovely version of Smokey Robinson’s ‘You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me’ replete with new middle-eight. Burke is also a bit McCartney-ish, reinvented with a quirkier, folksier, edge. The punters demanded more.

Melissa James commenced with a cappella verses eventually joined by the rapturous strains of Tom Gamble’s guitar. She looked stunning in a floor-length orange gown, and there wasn’t hear a whisper in the house. Ms James demonstrates increasing vocal control, in balance with the more dramatic reaches of her largely self-penned repertoire. The top-rate trio included collaborator Ross Lorrianne on keys and Paul Southerland on bass. Melissa is no power-diva: hers is an innocent, idiosyncratic voice not lending itself to contemporary Jazz parlance. Rather the rawer, Bluesier origins of Mamie Smith, or Bessie Smith, with an earthiness that can make demands on the listener. Melissa frequently intones speechier sounds that enhance her uniqueness.

Melissa shares excellent rapport with her audience but doesn’t ramble-on about the songs themselves other than letting them be. A new number ‘Games’ worked especially well for her, bespoke to timbre and range. Its gorgeously waltzy, Parisian, accompaniment so beautiful you imagine with the right set of photos it could be a huge internet hit. Melissa’s signature song ‘Don’t You Keep Yourself Down’ made for another exceptional performance. It’s these Blues styles of repeating riffs and rhythmic chants that she carries off spectacularly, delivered with heart and charisma. ‘Love Taking Hold’ for example, her “raunchier Blues number” was sensational, as was ‘Long Way Home’ distilled to voice and hand-claps. ‘Troubled’ was gentle and sweet with no sentimentality, building determinedly, then falling back, one of the most skilful performances of the evening.

Photo credit: Martin Slidel

Vincent Burke returned to duet on his own Ralph McTell-ish offering. Their well-crafted harmonisations induced Melissa’s sonorous, deeper, tones, already filtering-through in other numbers. I was particularly impressed with the overall musicality of ‘Live Again’ which also showcased the terrific skills of each of the musicians. As song-writing partner Ross Lorraine explains, “Melissa’s a natural live performer – that’s when she comes alive. For Melissa it’s all about the song and the words as much as the music. And playing live is about responding to her and to each other. It’s not so much like Jazz, more about the subtle changes of rhythm and dynamics [with this style of Roots-ier music] than anything else.” As Melissa’s set and material become more focused, and more considered, we anticipate further yields.

The inspirational ‘Long Road Travelled’ was apt to end a very memorable Sunday, joyfulness over-spilling from Ms James’ radiant and infectious smile. The song summates her evidential life journey – check-out Melissa’s What’s On London interview – as well as her continual musical journey. The audience refused to let her go, and were rewarded with a terrific cover of Lizz Wright’s ‘Hit the Ground’, Ms James’ vocals, with that slight sense of grit, never more potent. Then back to her own ground with the lively and uplifting album-track ‘Sing’. I was singing it – and winging it – all the way home.

Green Note is a great venue: cosy, contained, and hidden away at a far end of Camden Town. It has a chilled-out ambience; patterns of Morrocan light-shades amongst a Bohemian mishmash of styles. There was a good crowd on the night, suitably relaxed, and appreciative of the top-level musical-menu. Meanwhile, the accessible bar boasted an interesting range of foods including spinach filo rolls for example, together with gluten-free and vegan options.

CD COMPETITION:

Enter by June 30 to win a signed copy of Melissa James’ fabulous début CD.

Just complete the title of the song in this videoDon’t You Keep Yourself…

a) Up

b) Down

c) Low

Email the correct answer to: PleaseSayIHaveWon@outlook.com

Photo credit: Mike Watts

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