“…there’s nothing more intimate in life than simply being understood. And understanding someone else….” Brad Melzer.
The juggernaut that is mainstream music is a big, ugly bloated behemoth that just tramples all and sundry underfoot. It is a money making machine, long gone are the reasons why people created and performed music in the first place and I am saddened by this loss.
The fact that electronics are much more simple to use and cost relative pennies means that music can be worked on, mixed, mastered and changed beyond all recognition from the first notes that were written. Yes you can achieve near perfection but, surely, you are losing the heart and soul of what the artist intended?
Thankfully, every now and then, something awe-inspiring happens which restores my faith about all that is good in the music industry and, to a lesser extent, humanity in general.
Some artists can strip the music back to the bare essentials, to the core of their creativity to take part of their own soul and create something that is full of joy, sadness and, above all, wonderment.
Lets take a step back a bit to earlier this year when I first heard Lee Maddison’s gorgeous ‘Maddison’s Thread’ album. A release full of folk tales of wonderment, sadness and joy performed beautifully by the self-effacing musician. Like you do, I struck a conversation up with Lee on social media and ended up reviewing the album for this very website, which you can read here:
Now things may get convoluted here but the brilliant artist Amanda White did the rather superb album cover for this record:
And, by a stroke of luck, I already knew Amanda’s husband Howy White through his association with the Brendan Eyre and Tony Patterson ‘Northlands’ project for which he photgraphed the cover art (still with me so far?).
Both Howy and Amanda are long time supporters of Lee Maddison and have arranged a couple of small and exceedingly intimate gigs for Lee in the cellar of their Hartlepool home, imaginatively re-christened The Rabbit Hole. I was lucky enough to be invited to one of these hallowed gatherings this last weekend. Now, does it all make sense?
Howy is decidedly passionate about these little soirees and had decorated the cellar but would not let any of us go down until gig time so the 15-20 guests had a great time chatting while Lee and his fellow musicians were setting up.
Joining him on this night were acclaimed fiddle player, the ‘ever ready with a smile’ Stewart Hardy and the laconic and laid back Nigel Spaven on 5-string acoustic bass. What we were about to experience would be nothing short of life-affirming and magical……
When the word was given we all filed down the, decidedly uneven, stairs into the wonderful olde-worlde cellar which was an incredibly intimate and quite surreal setting.
A mixed selection of chairs, benches and stools had been set up for the audience and we were literally only feet away from the performers. It doesn’t get any more intimate than this.
The atmosphere was one of hushed expectation and excitement and then Lee relaxed everyone with a little quip before starting out on the first half of the set. He has a quite outstanding vocal and one that is instantly recognisable. The first song was the upbeat and whimsical One Day and got everyone in the mood, toe-tapping and clapping along. This was followed by Misty Morning Blues, an enchanting and heartfelt journey into Americana and the first of the new tracks that Lee was showcasing, a more stripped back and natural folk song entitled Charlatans and Blaggers. This was a rip-roaring sing along that really got the audience inspired and nodding along appreciatively and this mood was carried over to the first request of the night, the opening track from Lee’s first album, The Viking’s Daughter, a lilting delight of a song where the vocals really are the key and the deft skill of Stewart’s fiddle playing comes to the fore.
The absolutely mesmerising performance continued with The Country Song, another great sing-along track that just flies along and in this setting it lent a real buzz tot he proceedings, the catching, heartfelt Come The Springtime where the emotional performance brought a lump to your throat and two stunningly delivered cover songs, Tree By The River (Iron and Wine cover) and Lady Eleanor (Lindisfarne cover) where the three musicians led a merry dance through your soul. Sandwiched between these two was one of the highlights of the evening for me, the velvety loveliness of the jazz inspired Night Circus (my request actually) and it just left an utterly relaxed feel to my whole being, the hairs on the back of my neck rising from the unique experience of these matchless musicians in such an iconic venue.
The small crowd walked back up the stairs for the interval talking in hushed tones of reverence after the sublime experience we had just been party to.
Set 2 began with a great, upbeat cover of Paul Simon’s Slip Sliding Away and then Lee, Stewart and Nigel then proceeded to treat us to the sparse beauty of an utterly spellbinding version of Where Eagles Fly. Haunting and quite hypnotic, it just left me numb with admiration. This was followed by another new track Tumbleweed, a more deliberate and contemplative track that shows where Lee will be going with his new album. The enthralled audience were showing silent appreciation at the skill and artistry of the players and every track was greeted with very appreciative applause. The solemn and melancholy A Crooked Mile Home left a slight feeling of sadness in my soul but its sheer beauty just left me slack jawed.
The complete contrast of the tongue-in-cheek light and airy Making The Morning Last had us all bouncing around with its breezy and carefree delivery and Stewart’s impish fiddle playing was a joy to listen to. A delicate and poignant cover of Galway To Graceland (Richard Thompson) was followed by the biting satire of Parasiteful, a song delivered with edgy aplomb and a biting vocal and then Wonderful Day, a slight more serious track and one which really captivated the entranced audience on this night, pared back but with lustre and finesse with the ever impressive Nigel Spaven and Stewart Hardy really coming to the fore. I know it’s a cliche to say all good things must come to an end but I really could have stayed in that cellar all night listening to these peerless performers go about their work, unfortunately The Way You Shine was the last offering they had to give us. A song that never made the cut of the first Maddison’s Thread album but one that fits this special setting perfectly.
Life gets so convoluted and complicated at times that we forget that, at its simple best, it is a joy to behold. That night in Howy and Amanda’s cellar, that shall forever be known as The Rabbit Hole into perpetuity, was quite an uplifting and moving musical experience and one that shall stay with me for all my life. Music does not have to be complicated to be life-affirming and amazing and that night just emphasised this fact immensely.
All pictures are courtesy of the amazing Howy White.