This was show 4 of 5 of the second series of Songs Under Skies (the last was September 2020) in the grounds of the iconic York venue the National Centre For Early Music (NCEM). Tonight it was the turn of some musical talent that help showcase just what a wonderful hotbed of music York actually is. First to take the tiny stage was Zak Ford who has featured on this blog before as a solo artist and also as vocalist for This House Is Haunted. This was apparently his first gig in two years thanks to Covid. His first song, which I think was called “Use A Light” was very Jeff Buckleyesque in style and delivery. On his next song he unleashed some sublime guitar work which was reminiscent of Jonny Greenwood in one of his more mellow moments. I love “Healing Place”, it is a yearning, proto ballad with an underlying happy vibe. One of my favourite Zak Ford songs is “My Body” and tonight’s rendition maintained the songs haunting beauty. Zak did Bon Iver proud with a sublime cover of “Hey Ma”. Like many musicians Zak has continued to write and he played us a lovely tune called “Hopes And Fears” which he wrote in a very positive frame of mind during the first lockdown last year. I am looking forward to seeing Zak play live again, either solo or as a part of This House Is Haunted.
Next up is another artist who has been featured in these pages before, Alice Simmons. A very talented singer songwriter and performer who I believe has the talent and potential to go a long way. I spoke to Alice earlier in the evening and understandably she was nervous, as almost every artist probably is after a year or more of not being able to perform. But on stage there was not even a hint of nerves from Alice as she glided through a wonderful set with support from the guitar maestro known as Tim Downie. “Bridges” is a plaintive ballad over which Alice’s smoky vocal glides over the tune like a banished angel seeking a return to heaven. Next up was a stunning cover of James Brown’s “It’s Man’s Man’s World” which in the hands of a female vocalist transforms into a feminist anthem. Alice was on top form for this, she has a Winehouse sized talent. She readily admits that she writes mostly sad songs and maybe there is some truth in that, but when they have the depth and quality of the sublime, lilting ballad “State Of Mind” I don’t really mind at all. But for all the sad songs Alice is most definitely a happy person. Alice ran through a great cover of Paolo Nutini’s “Candy”, a song I must confess that I am not very familiar with, but she made it her own. Perhaps my favourite of Alice’s original songs is “Black Coffee”, it has depression, desolation and despair, proving again that she does write sad songs, but oh so very well. She closed her set with an inspired choice of cover, the 25 year old Blackstreet smash “No Diggity”. Alice performed the song like it was made for her, but the real star for this finale was the incredibly funky acoustic guitar sounds from Tim Downie. I recommend you explore both of tonights incredibly talented artists further, you will not be disappointed!
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