November 21, 2016
Union Chapel, London
Applewood Road had impressed at Union Chapel’s Daylight Music, but a night show there is something else. With stage lights piercing otherwise enveloping darkness, there are no distractions, and the acoustics can be punishing – there’s nowhere to hide mistakes.
Thankfully, there’s no dead weight in this Americana trio so the church acoustics were breathtaking rather than hostile. Each member honed their craft as a solo performer so the night started with each showcasing their individual talents.
“Don’t give up, don’t go to Canada. Stay and speak the truth.”
Amy Speace’s reaction to the U.S. election result was to champion the power and purpose of music; to unite, to document, to challenge. Plans for a March on Washington the day after Trump’s inauguration were underway, with guitars and voices as formidable weapons for peaceful protest.
Speace would fit well into the American tradition of protest singers; she shares the same sense of presence, personal connection and vocal control of Joan Baez and her contemporaries.
Two songs were particularly poignant – the powerful military tragedy, Weight of The World, and the incomparable funeral song, Hymn For The Crossing. As Speace’s rich vocals and sincere words rose to the rafters, eyes glistened all around.
Check out Amy Speace’s music and tour dates here.
“This is the dream”
Amber Rubarth’s smile filled the chapel before her sweet vocals did, and soon she was winning new fans over with gentle guitar picking, humming and delicate wordplay.
Wherever You Are was a simple, soaring tune taking “the moon perspective of a relationship…being far enough away from a break-up that you can just see love.”
Another highlight was Rough Cut which Rubarth, a former wood sculptor, wrote from the point of view of wood as the chainsaw struck. It’s surprisingly moving at any time; even more so in a darkened room with piano and pure vocals reverberating round. Rubarth’s has clearly retained the skill to create beauty from everyday things.
Visit Amber Rubarth’s website for a free download of Wherever You Are and to order her upcoming album, Wildflowers in the Graveyard.
“They’re also great at recycling!”
Since Australian singer-songwriter Emily Barker settled in Britain, Union Chapel’s become something of a second home.
Four years to the day that she’d headlined there with The Red Clay Halo, she had the crowd roaring with laughter as she pointed out how the venue had re-purposed the poster from that night.
It was laughter between songs, serious talent within. Barker switched with ease from showstopping a capella and piano renditions of new gospel-inspired songs, to a storming electro-acoustic-harmonica-stompbox version of old favourite, Disappear.
Head to Emily Barker’s website to pre-order her new album, and buy tickets for her headline show at King’s Place on February 16, 2017. It’s allocated seating so don’t delay!
After three different but equally excellent solo sets, it was easy to forget that the main event was still to come. As Speace, Rubarth and Barker joined forces, they somehow created something greater than the sum of its parts. The trio’s pure tone seemed tailor-made for Union Chapel’s acoustics.
The crowd clapped along spontaneously to Honey Won’t You and the ironically jaunty Sad Little Tune, but otherwise listened in silence as warm electro-acoustic guitar, banjo, drum, and three complementary voices floated effortlessly around.
With such high-quality songs faithfully delivered (not surprising since their self-titled debut album was recorded as live), each could be considered notable. The story songs were especially suited to the hushed, contemplative space – the roaming Josephine, and the nostalgic Bring The Car Round, for example.
On a night of highlights, the first and last songs were exceptional. The set started with an cappella rendition of the song that started it all, Applewood Road, and ended with the beautifully bittersweet I’m Not Afraid Anymore on piano and guitar.
There was a rush for records at the end, proving there’s a desire to hear more from this trio – Union Chapel would certainly be a fitting venue for a Nashville style songwriters in the round session.
Like what you see? There are many more photos of the show over on Flickr. Please follow me there, and here:
Want more photos? Try my travel, nature and street photography website, Out To The Streets!