In a lifetime of gig-going you invariably encounter unusual venues. Village halls, churches, some that are literally off the beaten track. Some that defy sat-nav. It is when you find in these places artists of a certain stature, or your favourites, the event becomes all the more intriguing and memorable.
In my local area, Focus guitarist Jan Akkerman at Birkenhead Priory, Steve Tilston with his band at Appleton Thorn Village Hall, Love & Money frontman James Grant in a pub in Biddulph. Even Dan Reed at Lymm Golf Club. I know, you’ve never heard of these places. And, for the most part, neither had I.
Irish singer songwriting stalwart Eleanor McEvoy at “Penylan Hall” in Meiford, at the culmination of her latest UK tour, is just one of those experiences. Out in the mists of Welsh border country the venue doubles up as a superb recording location as much as an occasional gig destination. Eleanor has played here previously and I have no doubt it will become an essential fixture on future tours. I hope so.
Towards the end of this special gig, Eleanor told us that – at the end of her tour – her voice was not in the best of health and she was struggling with a cold bug. To be honest, you would never have known. The more so as she rounded off her set with the acappella “The DJ”.
What struck me during her set is that she is a really talented multi-instrumentalist; switching freely from acoustic to electric guitar and keyboard and fiddle (or violin, she would point out, as she tackled a more formal piece with ease).
And, as long-time supporter Pete Whalley comments elsewhere, she is an engaging conversationalist enlightening us with stories about the songs and her experiences on the road.
Inevitably, with a tremendous back catalogue to draw upon, there are going to be many omissions and in truth her setlist remains fairly constant these days. However she does introduce the unexpected – on this tour a very fine Pointer Sisters cover and for this gig a song inspired by her visit to Australia – and you do get the impression that she could turn her hand to anything,
The consistency factor, and replay value of her music, comes of course from brilliant songwriting whether it be straight love songs – ‘Harbour’ – or ‘Non Smoking Single Female’ with a wry humour that even the late Victoria Wood would have struggled to emulate. And back in 1999 on one of her finest ‘commercial’ albums – ‘Snapshots’ – she spun the tale of ‘Sophie’ which is now being used in therapy sessions for that modern malaise, anorexia.
Eleanor is currently getting ready to release a “concept” piece re-arranging songs from the 19th century Irish composer Thomas Moore and her reference to trip-hop and flugel horns certainly whets the appetite. This will also coincide with a TV documentary.
The set tonight ended with the song that really established her to a wider audience and now 25 years on – ‘A Woman’s Heart’ – which she performed originally with another great Irish musical export (and early mentor) Mary Black.
For the past couple of decades Eleanor McEvoy has very much ploughed her own musical furrow, eschewing the trappings of commercialism but still producing consistent – and occasionally surprising – good works.
Meiford was indeed the perfect venue to witness this marvellous performer with perfect sound courtesy of her old friend Rod Callan. It was like your own private party and with an unexpected chilli supper to round things off, for hardened gig-goers it really doesn’t get much better.
Review and Photos by David Randall
David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.
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