ICMP Songwriters’ Circle: Ben Earle, Hannah Rose Platt, Megan O’Neill, Kaity Rae, Conor Riley & Izzie Naylor

March 19, 2018
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, London

On a freezing night, tucked away from Hampstead’s designer shops and bistros, something even more exclusive and organic happened.

The premise of an Institute of Contemporary Music Performance (ICMP) songwriters’ round is simple but effective. An ICMP tutor (also an established songwriter) comperes the night. She introduces her own songs as well as a household name performer, a special guest, an ICMP graduate, and several current ICMP students.

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ICMP Songwriters' Circle

Other students can attend for free to support their classmates and to learn about songwriting and the music business from practitioners.

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“I was a bit of a weird child. I was obsessed with horror!”
Redrospective favourite Hannah Rose Platt was the tutor this time around; obviously she kicked the night off in style. As if the talent of the fresh-faced students didn’t make the rest of us feel inadequate enough, Platt introduced Chanel and Cigarettes, a song she started writing when she was ten! Given that it’s about adultery, she was quick to clarify that it developed since its first draft. However, the gothic atmosphere was not new, given her early preoccupations.

Despite acknowledging that most of her songs are story songs, the showstopper was a much more personal first-person narrative. It risks cliché to say it’s brave; after all, there are no medals for living your life. But it is f***ing badass to write a song about domestic abuse, release it, then perform it in front of your students.  Sorry was breathtaking and harrowing but, because of Platt’s pure voice and melodic finesse, also beautiful.

Hannah Rose Platt

Platt ended with one of her characteristic story songs. 1954 was a poignant tale about a dementia sufferer based on the insights of Platt’s friend, the subject’s careworker. As standard, Platt set the scene with her painterly words and delivered them beautifully.

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Download Sorry by Hannah Rose Platt here. All proceeds go to Women’s Aid. 

“Taking inspiration from my second breakup”
Conor Riley was next in the circle, momentarily causing confusion amongst those of us who attended the last ICMP Americana/country round (especially Ben Earle)! We were all relieved to learn that Conor had simply changed his surname since the last outing. There aren’t two identical Conors writing songs in Kilburn!

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Riley acknowledged another difference since last time – no flu! Now on top form, he debuted three new songs. First came an assured rendition of Nothing But Liquor. In round 2, he was fierce in performing a distinctly countrified Southern rock song inspired by The Cadillac Three.

Conor Riley

The best was left ’til last. Riley admitted that he usually adds a bit of falseness to his songs for self-protection but Waiting For You was honest and emotive. It covered the shock and resultant depression caused when his dad abruptly walked out on the family when Riley was just 13. He was accompanied on backing vocals by his classmate, Leah Bryant.

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His tutor, Platt, was there for moral support and reassurance when the song was over: “it takes a lot to bear your soul.”

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Head to Conor Riley’s website to find out more about him. 

“Maybe she just doesn’t like you!”
As if Platt running the show wasn’t treat enough, the special guest songwriter was another Redrospective favourite, Megan O’Neill. She had the crowd laughing right from the first round. She explained that her friend had been confused by her song, Half of Myself, thinking it was out of place to sing about a train station without any loos. She let the crowd find out for themselves that the real lyric was “an old country station without Emmy Lou.” That’s much worse than a train station without any loos.

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The laughs continued when it was established that she and seemingly everyone in the scene had written with Jessica Sharman – everyone, that is, except for Ben Earle. How awkward!

Ben Earle and Megan O'Neill

It was all in good fun. Earle and O’Neill clearly knew each other, having partied together in Nashville. O’Neill had been staying somewhere much nicer, though. Sensing a theme here? “You need to get with my people, Ben,” she joked!

Ben Earle

Taking her cue from Platt’s intensely personal second round song, O’Neill shared a hard-hitting song of her own. These Walls came from a horrible experience of a home invasion, which she’d turned into a poem and then a song. Both O’Neill and Platt admitted that writing the songs didn’t make them feel better about the trauma, but at least something creative came of it.

Megan O'Neill

O’Neill ended with her latest single (out April 6), the infectiously catchy Leave Without. With lyrics and melody like that, delivered with *that* voice, you couldn’t choose a much better role-model for aspiring songwriters.

Megan O'Neill

For a full band, full-length Megan O’Neill set, grab a ticket for her album launch gig on April 26. You’ll get a free copy of her new album when you’re there, and there will be gin. Lots of gin. Campfire Gin. 

“I have to be a real person now”
Next in the spotlight was another Redrospective favourite, Kaity Rae. Who also happens to write with Jessica Sharman regularly! With fantastic songs and recordings under her belt, it’s easy to forget that she’s only just graduated from ICMP.

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Kaity Rae

She started out with her trademark high speed wordplay, devilishly catchy hooks, and sublime head voice in Somebody Else’s Problem.

Rae’s round 2 track was the song of 2018 (you just don’t know it yet), Entitled. Seriously sassy and terribly timely, it’s about “going out and guys who are arseholes.” Sample lyric: “I didn’t dress up for you to dress me down/my platform shoes will dance around you.” Tuuuuuuuuune.

Kaity Rae

Rae closed out her set by inviting songwriting partner and fellow ICMP graduate Jordan Shaw to accompany her on keys and backing vocals for Doesn’t Feel The Same.

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Platt had played the ICMP rounds as a student, graduate, and now a tutor. Rae has now performed as a student and a graduate. Just saying, ICMP, just saying!

Kaity Rae

She ended with wise words for current students: “life exists after uni!” Even so, she admitted to missing the structure, as well as having someone to constructively critique her newest songs [I volunteer as tribute, Kaity!]

Find out more about Kaity Rae through her website, kaityrae.com

“Inspired by Carrie Fisher, AKA Princess Leia, my favourite human”
The fifth performer was a first-timer; first year Izzie Naylor. It was hard to tell that she wasn’t an old hand at it, given her assured delivery of Winter and Seasons. 

Izzie Naylor

She explained that she writes in metaphor rather than directly about people: “I don’t like them to know that they have that power over me.” Poison was inspired by Carrie Fisher’s famous quote: “resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

Izzie Naylor

Izzie Naylor

Check out Izzie Naylor’s YouTube channel for a mix of original songs and covers. 

“Those dreams where you’re in a church and you need a battery”
One of the best things about the ICMP rounds, both for the students willing to learn and the rest of us lucky to get in, is the quality of celebrity guests. Last time it was Frank Turner. Next time it is Elena Tonra from Daughter. This time was the welcome return of Ben Earle of The Shires. You guessed it, dear reader, The Shires do indeed feature on this website regularly!

Ben Earle

Earle seemed a bit surprised to have been invited back: “I thought I was a bit drunk and rowdy last time!” This time could have been different: “I feel a bit weird about drinking in church.” Then again, with students’ union prices, he certainly wasn’t the only one!

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Ben Earle

With Platt, Riley, Rae and Earle, this shindig was a big ol’ reunion of singers from the last ICMP country/Americana round. It wouldn’t have been the same without him. As well as sounding excellent in the stripped down acoustic setting, he was generous in sharing praise for, and time with, the students.

Ben Earle

Admitting “I don’t want to say it changed my life, but it kind of did,” he started with the song that started it all for The Shires, and which pretty much put the UK country scene on the map: Nashville Grey Skies.

Ben Earle

He also played State Lines, another seminal song for The Shires. It’s dripping in U.S. specificity even though it was written by Earle and three Swedes. Not one of them had been to America at the time. His first trip, shortly after, clarified a few things: “You have to go to understand just how extreme Americans are.”

Ben Earle

The unlikely quartet teamed up again to write Blue Jeans. Funnily enough, it was deemed too American to go on The Shires’ forthcoming album, Accidentally On Purpose. This meant the ICMP crowd were lucky enough to hear its debut.

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I Just Wanna Love You has been embraced by many couples for the first dance at their weddings. That was a pretty striking example of the importance of songwriting for the ICMP students to take to heart. His final song was evidence of the power of a hook. Trying not to sing along to A Thousand Hallelujahs is a bit like trying to eat a doughnut without licking your lips.

He ended with advice that seems simple but could be easy to forget in a competitive and sometimes thankless art form and industry: “keep on writing songs!”

The Shires latest album, Accidentally On Purpose, is out on April 20. Check out their website for pre-order details and tour dates. 

Like what you see? There are more photos of the show over on Flickr. Please follow me there, and here:

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