There are some gigs that you leave filled with joy and pride. Pride that there is talent like this in our country and joy at sharing something very special with two outstanding musicians. This was one of those moments, everyone left with a spring in their step and the atmosphere within the lucky couple of hundred fans who shared this intimate night was one of a family united in their love of music.
Surya is situated half way between Kings Cross and Angel on Pentonville Road and it played host to this double header of Samuel Jack and Beth Rowley last Thursday evening. The gig was played to a packed downstairs crowd who had come from far and wide to see this sole London date for the pair. It was hot and sticky on a warm London summer evening but nothing could have detracted from the event or the enjoyment of this excellent venue.
Samuel Jack has just released his EP entitled ‘Live From My Caravan’, an allusion to the fact that Samuel now makes music from his caravan on the outskirts of a small village in Dorset, but it his musical journey rather than his current location that flavours not only this release but seeing him live. London-born Samuel moved to Johannesburg at the age of 12, before settling in the West Country via Europe. He was raised on blues, Motown, soul and roots music and his musical, personal journey all come to life vividly when you hear him sing. Backed by a superb band who are entirely synchronised with his every move, he had the room in the palm of his hand as he sang of redemption, rain and letting it all out. He has incredible warmth and an engaging personality when he performs and it’s easy to understand why when you know that he honed his tunes on a battered piano in front of the regulars in his local pub, but now his music deserves a much bigger audience, and on the back of last Thursday’s performance it should be well within his grasp. Even as he took his applause the crowd were still singing his lyrics back to him. This was surely a high point of the night for him but well deserved given the raw emotion he pours into his music, moving him almost to tears at one point, and the honesty of his performance when he sang a duet with his co-headliner Beth Rowley, when covering One Republic.
I first saw Samuel perform at the Innocent Unplugged festival in Kent earlier this year and he impressed me then, but last week he was at an even higher level, the intimacy of the event seeming to suit the intimacy of his performance perfectly, and it set the bar very high for his co headliner Beth Rowley, who would perform after him. I first saw Beth at the same festival and I must confess I have come late to the party as far as Beth is concerned but her performance at Innocent and last week’s performance have convinced me that she is one of this country’s brightest stars.
Beth Rowley first came to prominence in the UK after being spotted at an open mic night, and released her first album in 2008 which peaked at number six in the album charts, before she was nominated as Best Female Solo Artist at The Brits in 2009, missing out to Duffy but nominated alongside a certain Adele. From then she has performed alongside such greats as Burt Bacharach, David Arnold, and Jools Holland. But it’s not until this year that she will release an eagerly anticipated sophomore album, and personally I can’t wait.
Thursday evening saw Beth take to the stage looking elegant and relaxed in a jumpsuit and sandals, and she took Surya by storm. It’s difficult to know what Beth’s strongest suit is when it comes to genre but for me her voice comes into its own when she takes the tempo down. At that point she could be Etta James or, whisper it quietly, Amy Winehouse, such is the quality of her vocals and the emotion she brings to her music. Indeed, at one point as Beth sang, ‘Boy’, a song dedicated to her brother, I saw one of the crowd turn to another and whisper, “Wow! Goosebumps.” Another huge high point for everyone was when she invited Samuel Jack back on to stage to sing, ‘Wade in the Water’, a 1901 Negro Spiritual song, once covered by Eva Cassidy. As well as singing a couple of excellent new songs that were warmly received, Beth then closed by singing Bob Dylan’s ‘I Shall Be Released’, a song once covered by Nina Simone, which she sang beautifully to a crowd that by this point were hanging on her every word and begging for more.
When I first met and chatted with Beth at Innocent Unplugged, my wife and I spoke with her about music and where she would be playing, and it was then that she told us about the gig at Surya. We also chatted about Country music and after seeing her perform last week with her excellent band which featured the wonderful sounds of a slide guitar, an instrument so often identified with Country music, it’s still my opinion that if she turned her undoubtedly excellent voice towards that genre, she would conquer Nashville as easily as she won everyone’s hearts at Surya. I can but hope!
As I said, sometimes a gig just makes you happy to be alive. Please take the time to check out these two wonderful artists and do please try to catch them both perform. You won’t be disappointed!