Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
“Now-a I see you come down on the scene
You make me wanna get up and-a scream”
Foxy Lady – The Jimi Hendrix Experience
For far too long Clwb Ifor Bach – or Little Ivor’s Club – has been, for us, the swanky looking venue on the opposite side of Womanby Street to our usual haunt, when in the Welsh capital, of Fuel Club. The lure of seeing the blues / country cross-over talents of Welsh singer / songwriter Laura Evans has however finally enticed us within this evening.
Opening up for fellow countrymen Cardinal Black, just before Christmas, performing an acoustic set with guitarist Joe Coombs, songbird Laura firmly caught our attention. The prospect of a full band performance is a major draw. Laura and Joe’s sterling performance has certainly whetted our musical appetites.
With choirs and choral singing in the very DNA of Welsh heritage Wales is, with complete justification, entitled the ‘Land Of Song.’ A line from the 1941 Oscar-winning adaptation of Richard Llewellyn’s novel ‘How Green Was My Valley reads “Singing is in my people as sight is in the eye.” How very true and resonant these words have been over the years since they were penned.
Laura’s hometown the former industrial heartbeat of Aberdare, at the confluence of the rivers Dare and Cynon, was during its boom years considered a centre of Welsh culture with several National Eisteddfod, including the very first in 1861, being held. Also an important focal point of the Welsh language publishing Aberdare is truly within the middle of a country’s identity.
Nearby Cwmaman spawned the Stereophonics and Manic Street Preachers roared out of Blackwood whilst a certain Sir Thomas Jones Woodward rose to prominence from his beginnings in Treforest. There’s something in the waters that run through the Valleys of South Wales; a fact borne out by the current crop of rock bands like Florence Black, Scarlet Rebels and, of course, Those Damn Crows who hit the headlines with a very recent top 3 slot in the UK Official Album charts.
This evening’s support, John Adams, also hails from Aberdare. With nearly a million Spotify followers and multi million views on YouTube I wonder how on earth we’ve not heard of this richly blessed performer before now. Within a matter of seconds of John and his keyboardist Andy striking up I’m in awe. Wide in his vocal reach John holds captive a bustling Clwb Ifor for a whistlestop 30 minutes set.
From the mellow ballad ‘Million Lives’ – off his 2019 EP ‘No White Lies’ and recently re-mastered – with its Bruce Hornsby-esque keys through to the Jeff Buckley enriched tones of set-closer ‘Amen’ there’s a potent magic employed. There’s a deep personal emotion to his material – from falling in love through to the conception and birth of twins – that John happily relates between songs. This engaging humanity ensures a connectivity from stage to crowd; let’s not forget this is a guy who’s supported the likes of Status Quo, T’Pau and Katherine Jenkins.
Formerly a maths teacher John hasn’t lost touch with his busking roots. There’s a gritty sort of streetwise attitude that provides a framework to his song writing. The captivating acoustic ‘Nobody Knows’ rolls into an uplifting rendition of Springsteen’s ‘Dancing In The Dark’ with nary a stitch required. There’s an obvious comparison to the likes of Ed Sheeran, who’s not necessarily my particular cuppa, however it’s John’s sincere urbaneness that provides extra strings to his bow. That which ensures that the side of me that leans towards the aforementioned Springsteen and Buckley is snared.
Demonstrative of John’s observational tack the bewitching beauty of ‘Kiss You Again’, with its references to how Elton John has played a role at key moments in his relationship with both his wife and twins, tugs at the heartstrings. There’s a cheerful self-depreciation “You’ve come to see a lovely blonde country singer and you have to sit through [half hour of] a chubby valley lad” John wryly observes before expressing his gratitude for the warm welcome received. It’s these sorts of skills that endear.
Spanning screen and theatre stages alike tonight’s headline act, Laura Evans, has many talented facets for sure to go alongside her rapidly developing music career. From youthful encounters of the foxy kind to lead roles in several pantomimes in Bristol, Liverpool, Newcastle, and London this is an individual deservedly destined to see her ‘name in lights.’
Last year saw the release of Laura’s debut album ‘State Of Mind’, recorded and produced Josiah J. Manning (Kris Barras Band) it became a widespread success. With massive support coming from such quarters as BBC Radio Wales, Planet Rock, Classic Rock and Blues Matters the album debuted at number one in the UK Blues chart as well racking up well over half a million streams on Spotify in less than a month.
With a foot-stomping beat ‘Solo’ a near 80-minutes-long set commences. Drummer Jamie Dawson adds a shimmering of cymbals as guitarist Joe Coombs and bassist Daisy Pepper keep the freight-train rhythms on track. The scene is complete as the trio are joined, a few moments later, by Laura as they truck an American vibrancy to a nicely packed Clwb Ifor. An empowering, infectious number it hits the spot for a crowd composed of a good number of travelling fans plus a good percentage of Aberdare itself.
With a touch of Fleetwood Mac fringed with the merest hint of Queen tucked away in the beat of the intro ‘Fire With Fire’ is introduced as “About being single” by Laura. There’s a purity of voice that holds a parity with such contemporaries as Elles Bailey in parts melded with Mac’s Stevie Nicks.
The up-tempo countrified ballad ‘Running Back To You’ stirs Rhiannon, the Welsh goddess of horses, high up in the hills above the Valleys. An equine spectral presence runs in and out. Delighted to have sold-out Ivor’s Club, on the first night of the UK tour, Laura claims Chris Stapleton’s honkytonk rocking ‘Arkansas’ as her ‘own.’ So much so that Laura has very recently released a version, recorded live, as a single. Mist swirls as the breeze blows with bluesy guitar bursting into a 12-bar shuffle with a bourbon-bar vibrancy.
Slowing it down with the soulful, rich tones of the heart-breaking ‘Fool’ Laura demonstrates why “You should never go out with a songwriter!” as she adds as the track draws to a close. Delving back into the archives ‘Early Morning Blues’ – written about a New Year’s resolution to give up a brand of coffee – is winched out and dusted down for a gloriously extended version. Inviting, mid-song, suggestions for an impromptu blues Laura works a rugby inspired jam whilst leaving ‘onomatopoeia’ to Kid Creole and his Coconuts. Spontaneously belting out “We’re playing a good game” meets with wholehearted approval.
Written out in Nashville, with award-winning writer Jenn Bostic, ‘Mess Of Me’ – “It’s better than the rugby song!” promises Laura – conveys raw emotion that is continued with the rootsy ‘Let You Down Easy.’ Released as a single a couple of years ‘Take Me Home’ brings Nashville to the Valleys with its countrified hometown sentiments. “You can take the girl out of the valleys” concludes Laura.
Alligators, sweltering on the banks of the swamp, stir in the heat with bayou-rocker ‘Free’ despatching Southern vibes aplenty. Pounding beats alloy comfortably with fiery licks as crystalline lyrics dart in and out. The ratchet is tightened further with the up-tempo driving blues-rock of ‘Good At Getting Over You.’ This is what occurs when Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles are introduced to one another in a roadside whiskey shack.
‘Drag Me Back In’ growls with a ZZ Top edge as it receives a gritty reworking before the title track of last year’s debut ‘State Of Mind’ rocks up in a kerosene highway haze with an almost Primal Scream riff accompanying. A head-nodder for sure, lucky charm and winning hand without doubt.
Given a countrification reworking the Eagles’ Billboard number one hit single ‘Heartache Tonight’ brings the house down as Clwb Ifor parties along. All too soon the evening is ending with Laura encouraging everyone to singalong with the prowling blues-rocking ‘I’m Alright’ that strikes a predatory pose. We all unleash the inner lion as Joe’s guitar snarls and growls. With a glam-rock beat this is one that’s going to be an earworm for days to come!
With a solid foundation laid down Laura and her band can look forward to 2023 with high expectations. Alongside the likes of Elles Bailey, Chantel McGregor, Joanne Shaw Taylor, Rebecca Downes there’s definitely an explosion in British blues crossover for sure.
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM