The eight-date tour with Harpers Ferry, Edd Donovan, Two Ways Home, and Lya Stewart makes a stop in Bath, which goes ahead despite the best efforts of a WWII bomb evacuation in the area.
It was touch and go whether tonightâ€™s show would go ahead. Authorities evacuated a thousand homes and established a 300-metre exclusion zone just up the road. Fortunately, the bands still managed to get to the venue as did the fans looking forward to a great night of country, folk rock, and Americana.
A small, but appreciative, audience has gathered to see Lya Stewart take the stage in the cellar. The arched vault makes for excellent acoustics as the young singer-songwriter gives us a set of well-crafted songs. The vibe of the venue is close and intimate, and it suits the material. Her songs tell of past love and new hope.
Usually, she plays with a band. But tonight gives Lya the chance to play material she rarely performs along with a few old favourites, such as â€œSheâ€™ll Never Be Meâ€ which she wrote when only 16. â€œWhen Iâ€ tells a story to which many can relate, possibly even autobiographical.
Lya finishes with a beautiful, acoustic version of the Guns N Roses song, â€œSweet Child Of Mine,â€ making a perfect ending to her set.
Next up is Two Ways Home. At a typical gig, they would perform as a full band. Tonight, they are playing as a duo. Isabella Mariee (vocals) and Lewis Fowler (guitar and vocals) work well together with an unmistakable chemistry. They have been compared to Lady Antebellum and The Shires. It is a lot to live up to, but they always do.
The set moves along with stories told in between tracks. â€œStill In Loveâ€ brings a tale of how they shot the video in February in a beautiful, but frigid, Lake District. The song also features Isabella on autoharp, which is nice to see.
â€œTake My Handâ€ follows after Lewis checks his phone for the setlist. He doesnâ€™t tell Isabella which song is next, leaving her to work it out as he starts playing! It is a great song with some beautiful harmonies.
â€œBetter Days,â€ the title track of the new EP, is a standout song again with great harmonies bolstered by Lya singing along in the crowd to great effect. They give us Southern rock, upbeat songs, and then even some ukulele in â€œHome Again.â€
The set finishes with the beautiful and emotional â€œTime Lasts Forever,â€ a song about a letter Isabella wrote to her grandfather but never had the chance to give him. It reminds us all that life is precious and time is fleeting.
Edd Donovan also appears tonight without his usual band, The Wandering Moles. Edd has lived and has stories to tell, which he does extremely well. He explains that he loves writing songs, though is not keen on performing them. Any apprehension on his part, however, doesnâ€™t show tonight.
A mix of country, folk, Americana, and even a little blues makes for a diverse set of songs about life, both well written and well crafted. Edd plays both his older material and tracks from his upcoming album, Making Mountains Vol 1. He has a lot to offer. â€œI Am,â€ from the new album, is poetry put to song.
Banter, both humorous and thought-provoking, engages the audience. More great lyrics follow in the vein of the iconic folk songs, and especially reminiscent of Bob Dylan. Another notable track is â€œTalking Jesus,â€ which asks more potentially difficult questions. Edd Donovan plays a great set, pulling you in and making you listen.
HeadlinerÂ Harpers Ferry is from Gloucestershire and features Pia Varma on vocals, Christopher Rayner on acoustic/lead guitar, Ben Harvey on acoustic/lead guitar, Simon Frankton on bass, and Tony Collins on drums. Having recently added bass and drums to the original three-piece line-up, it’s worth the tight squeeze in the small stage area.
Pigeonholing Harpers Ferry into one genre is hard. The band offers country, folk rock, blues, and Americana; truly something for everyone. â€œVexed Questionâ€ opens the set with Ben on acoustic, and Christopher on lead, followed by â€œThey Had It All,â€ a country-folk number from the recent EP release.
â€œThe Bureaucratâ€ has a great drum intro and sees Ben and Christopher swap guitar roles. â€œEleventh Hourâ€ has a country vibe to it, with Pia sounding a little like Cyndi Lauper on the vocal. â€œFlying to Floridaâ€ is an upbeat summer song, at points reminiscent to “Blowinâ€™ Free” by Wishbone Ash.
â€œLucid As A Loonâ€ (great title!) has some beautiful three-part harmonies from Pia, Ben, and Christopher. â€œSwept Underâ€ sees both electric guitars swapping some cool riffs.
The best is saved for last, though, with â€œWhat To Believeâ€, the lead track from their recent EP. The song tells the story of being fed too much information via TV and news channels, making everyone experts. The lyrics challenge the listener to be a skeptic and not be led about. Check out the video for the song, too. Fantastic stuff! Harpers Ferry is a band worth seeking out.
So a great night ends on a high. All acts have been good, and each group supported the others from the audience. The Free Reign tour has been an evening of true folk-rock with a sixties vibe that has been greatly appreciated by all in attendance.
Photos by Becky O’Grady