Review by Tim Marcus with photos from Sam Conquest Photography
Tonight we’re at a brand new venue for us, surprisingly so given that it’s only ten minutes from where I live however for whatever reason, up until this evening, events have conspired to keep me away. As we walk in through the door I’m immediately hit by the intimacy, charm and idiosyncrasy of the venue, unusually situated in the middle of a pedestrianised urban high street, in what I believe was a former bank premises. With a capacity, I would guess of no more than 100/150 there’s an L-shaped bar at the entrance end of the room with a small stage opposite at the other end. The space in between is filled with an eclectic mix of tables, chairs and even old-fashioned school desks, all with excellent views of the stage. Aside from the bar which also serves a variety of teas, coffees and cakes (my partner in crime this evening was even served the tea she requested in a bone china teapot and tea cup!), the venue also boasts a wonderful vegan kitchen serving food throughout the day and evening.
As tempting as the menu looks, however, the main reason for our visit this evening is to see and hear the wonderful female vocalist, Alice Armstrong. Those familiar with Alice will be aware that she performs in a variety of formats, anything from a duo with keyboard player Stevie Watts to performing with a full four-piece band and backing singer. Tonight we have something that sits halfway between the two as she is accompanied this evening by guitarist Olly Knight-Smith and her regular rhythm section of Josh Rigal (bass) and Kev Hickman (drums).
We’ve seen Alice a few times now and therefore we do not know what to expect from her in terms of the composition of her set list: She is so versatile. Those who’ve read my reviews before will know that I’m always reluctant to pigeonhole an artist into any particular genre of music. In the case of Alice, I defy anyone to be able to do so, so mixed and eclectic is her style. We get blues, we get rock ballads, we get pop, we get soul, even get some jazz and so much more.
Chatting briefly between sets with drummer Kev Hickman (who’s also part of Catfish as well as working with the likes of the talented Dom Martin), he tells me that as much as he enjoys essentially being a blues rock drummer, working with Alice provides a different sort of challenge as she’ll send out a new song to the band which will always be different and could be absolutely anything from the array of different genres that her talents touch upon.
Alice’s songbook this evening, as has been the case in all of her recent shows we’ve seen, covers a whole variety of topics, some fun and amusing, others perhaps less so. During the course of the evening, Alice tells those of us gathered that in terms of her own songwriting journey, she’s only recently come to terms with being able to write songs about her own experiences and those we hear this evening that fall into that category are delivered with great emotion alongside the ever-present power and control in her vocal. To try and convey to you the full experience of an Alice Armstrong show in one simple review is a nearly impossible task. The closest I can get perhaps is to use a couple of sentences I used on a previous review. To hear Alice performing is like hearing the sounds of Maria Callas, Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin all coming from the same person. That to me is Alice Armstrong and that to me is what makes Alice Armstrong so good.