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Friday, 23 March 2012

Alan Frew, Andy Bargh, Grant Coffield, Kate Cassidy and Ari Ira Pournaras IV - Su Casa - 22/03/12

In Ayr, hiding at the end of an alley of small shops collectively known as the Lorne Arcade, sits a coffee shop called Su Casa.
By day it provides weary shoppers with organic coffees, hot chocolates and a selection of cakes that taste as good as they look.
It's small oasis of relaxed calm in a hurly burly world.
While Costa Coffee and Starbucks efficiently attempt to take over the high streets, and provide the illusion of providing a momentary respite from the trials and tribulations of life, it is Su Casa that provides the real deal.
Yet this is only one string to the establishments bow, as every Thursday evening they also open their doors to the public to showcase the talents of musicians from near and far.
There's no age restrictions, kids are made very welcome, you can bring your own bottle as it's not licensed to sell alcohol, and during breaks of the performances the owner Lucas - an always gracious, smiling and welcoming host – even provides natchos or pizza.
All of this, plus anything from four to eight acts performing, is provided for a recession busting five pounds.
It's the sort of deal that is commonly referred to as a sweet one.
Imagine Dylan in the sixties in a New York city coffee shop.
He's sitting in the corner with his guitar in his hand and the patrons are sitting on the floor, on chairs and settled into couches all around him.
That's the sort of scene that Su Casa sets, but by no means could you claim that Su Casa is a throw back to another era, as instead of a diet of folk musicians warbling away week after week they are on the cutting edge of what is happening.
It's entirely possible that you could witness some rousing Spanish Gypsy Flamenco Swing being played, some traditional blues updated to the twenty first century, some jazzy rock and roll or even a rock band trying out their material unplugged.
As Mr Gump's Mama used to say 'Su Casa is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get'
Okay. She didn't say that, but if she wasn't a fictional character, and was aware of Su Casa, she would have.
Especially if she had been here this week, as the artists on offer were co-host to the weekly entertainment Alan Frew, who was flying solo as master of ceremonies while Little Fire aka Jamie McGeechan is entertaining music lovers in Australia, Andy Bargh, Grand Coffield, Kate Cassidy and Ari Ira Pournaras IV who is also more commonly known as the front man for rising stars Rose Parade.
The evening starts strong with Alan Frew playing a selection of songs from his album 'Go Easy'.
His guitar playing appears effortless, but that's because he possesses a great deal of skill as a musician.
His finger picking is a real joy to behold.
He makes the complex seem easily attainable and there's a bit of magic in being able to do that.
His material sounds rather timeless, but also evokes the spirit of the seventies.
Not the overblown rock of the era, but the more contemplative, blues, country and folk work of those who straddled the sixties and seventies.
There's the English folk of Nick Drake. Some strong Americana and maybe even some tex-mex flavouring the material.
You could pitch Alan between then and what someone like Bonnie Prince Billy (Will Oldham) is doing now.
It's a good position to be in.
Neither old sounding, nor new, just that it is what it is.
Currently he's working on a new album with Mark Rafferty and the fruits of their labour is something that I'm keenly anticipating.
Both are top drawer entertainers and together I fully expect to hear something rather special, and on the subject of music that is rather special Alan then finished his set with a cover of Taj Mahal's Fishing Blues.
Finely executed it confirmed that Alan is indeed a man of many musical talents.
After a short interlude the young Andy Bargh, an eighteen year old solo artists from Troon, introduced himself and kicked off with a song called Atmosphere.
Musically what he does isn't far from what the Goo Goo Dolls do, but that band may not be an influence as here in the UK, as apart from their song Iris they don't really have that much of a high profile.
Especially among those of Andy's tender years.
So instead of the band influencing his work it's more probable that it is simple a happy coincidence.
There's a few little mistakes as he continues with his material, but with a shrug Andy takes them all in his stride, and as Su Casa is a supportive environment for young artists to cut their teeth the audience are happy to focus on the many positives of his performance rather than pick at the very minor slips.
Highlight of what was an impressive introductory set wasn't one of his own songs, but an up-tempo acoustic take on Marvin Gaye's 'Let's get it on'.
For such an iconic song Andy managed to take it down a different route and stamped his own personality all over it.
As he finished there's little doubt that he had won the room over, and I'm pretty sure few will forget his name.
Following Andy Bargh was Grant Coffield.
Friends have waxed lyrically about his talents and a few weeks previously I had seen him play and thoroughly enjoyed his performance, but that one didn't prepare me for just how good this one was to be.
It could be described as my road to Damascus moment in regards to his talent clicking in.
The main draw for me was the combination of his poetic lyricism and his voice.
There's an aspect to what he does that looks like he is lost in the recounting of memories. It can even feel slightly voyeuristic with his performance appearing to be one that is in no need of any sort of audience participation, but that's not to say that it doesn't connect.
Instead it is as if we are on the outside looking through the glass at something rather warm and beautiful.
There so much shading in his vocals that it is difficult to express it. It's as strong as it needs to be and comfortably drops to it being as soft as required dependent on what the songs requirements are.
Jeff Buckley keeps pushing in on my thoughts when I think of Grant, but not the loud screaming Jeff, but instead the softer toned one who could beguile the ear of the listener.
Midway through his performance he was joined by a young French woman who added some sublime harmonies to one of his songs.
The interplay between their voices perfectly dovetailed and it was an eloquent example of how to take something that already seems rather perfect and then improve on it.
To say I was impressed would be to downplay my enthusiast enjoyment of the performance.
It also highlights an issue with Su Casa. Just as you think that it can't get doesn't.
It cant. Instead it just goes off on a tangent and takes you down another musical path.
In this way it's not that Grant Coffield is better than Kate Cassidy who followed him.
It's more that both are at the top of their game in the genre they feel comfortable in.
In Kate's case this is belting out bluesy rockers with a voice that shouldn't be able to fit within the body of a woman with such a tiny stature.
It's like a welcomed splash of ice cold water in the face when she fires fearlessly into her first song of the night.
Everyone sits up a little straighter and I think Kate herself was a bit surprised at the rapturous applause she deservedly got.
With each song she captivated the room. Most women who go down this route have a rasp to their voice, but Kate's rings out true and strong.
A few times she mentioned that the material was all about a decade old.
Some songs she found in her guitar case, but they don't sound as if they are.
They sound fresh, vibrant and if she had said they had been written that morning and this was there first outing live I would have believed here.
Take an album from ten years ago and listen to it and see if it has dated.
There's a good chance that it has, but Kate's material hasn't.
In a very short conversation later on she commented that she had a few years off and is now looking to reintroduce herself to audiences.
On the basis of this performance that isn't going to be hard to do.
Once seen, never forgotten, and a very nice touch was how she mingled in the room after her set and thanked people for attending.
All things considered she was my favourite act of the evening.
Not because she was better than anyone else, but because she ticked more of the boxes when it comes down to what I personally like.
Closing act of the evening was Ari Ira Pournaras IV who was doing a solo acoustic run through of his band Rose Parades songs.
Along with most of the Grace EP he showcased a few songs from their forthcoming album and played a stripped down version of their current single 'The Sea of Lights'.
It's a rather wonderful experience to see Ari play as it provides fans of the band with the opportunity to hear the bones of the material before they are fleshed out with glockenspiel, banjo, electric guitar and whatever else they add to the mix.
There's an aspect to the music that is very engaging, even in its most minimalistic form.
The song writing is of a very high standard and throughout his performance it is very easy to understand why Ari and his band are drawing plaudits wherever they play, and along with a few other bands and acts like Brown Bear and the Bandits, Mechanical Smile, Little Fire, Matt Scott, Tragic O'Hara, Colin Hunter, Fole, Trusty and the Foe and The Imagineers, who have also all played in Su Casa, it is entirely possible that one or more will break through and garner some national attention in 2012.
Similar to all the acts of the evening Ari has a solid connection with those who have made the effort to seek out something a bit different from the majority who were probably catching up on soap operas or reality television shows.
There's no hint of a barrier between the audience and performer at all, and instead there's a communal spirit of kinship that is probably the very thing that has people coming back to Su Casa week after week regardless of who is playing.
Once again an exceptional night of entertainment.

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