Studio 2 is a weird one. It is so big, you could fit a large sauropod in and still have enough room for The Polyphonic Spree and Slipknot. The strange thing is though, the space doesn't feel big. It is one of those weird ‘logic vs feel’ things, like an illusionary mirror you see in all the promenades of every Victorian TV dramatisation. I'm digressing, but it was such a surrealist experience that one feels it necessary to start with an unusual introduction.
The first thing to say about the night was that it was very busy, with many siting in the center, on comfy chairs, and with congregations of people standing at the back; leaning against walls, doors and anything strong enough to support a bodily frame. One suspects, most folk at the gig were aware of Hardman’s material, or least, familiar with her name. But before we get to the main event (double single release), we were treated to ethereal sounds of Rachel Jean Harris. An artist who could very well be the reincarnation of both Nick Drake and John Martyn. Harris presents a strong voice; a voice that circles around her Jazz/Blues guitar like an ambitious and determined vine, pacing up against brutalist brick work. Bizarrely, one could hear elements of early Radiohead, PJ Harvey and Tori Amos in her music, perhaps, an indication of an Alternative Rock past. Her songs are grounded within the realities of day to day living but they abstain from cliche and songwriting tradition. She offers the audience something a little bit more Progressive and challenging whilst avoiding anything too ‘Avant Garde'.
Next up is a young singer-songwriter named Vanessa Murray. Her music is a little more, dare I say it, Americanized (see what I did there) than our first artist. But that is not to take anything away from the incredible music. Her songs are fun, entertaining and very prudent. Her cover of Fleetwood Mac left everyone smiling and humming along. And like Harris, Murray was confident on stage and very appreciative of our main act, her warm presence was felt around the room and leaving many paying compliments to her performance.
Finally, Nicola Hardman takes to the stage. And like some goddess venturing down from Mt Olympus, Hardman offers us mere mortals a little insight into the delights of daily deity life. Starting with ‘Too Late’; a slow and dark Modern Soul song, she claims she doesn't ‘Need a hero’ because her ‘bones are strong enough’. Such a strong statement, perhaps showcasing the difficulties of being an independent female artist; many of whom having to do everything DIY. After this we are treated too more songs, many of which are plucked directly from her first album 'Full Beans', albeit stripped back and played with more affection and power than on record.
Fleetwood Mac gets dropped in again and this time we get a Frank Darabont style take on ‘The Chain’. Hardman takes this song much further than the original. Her version explores the hidden depths of human psychology and, when coupled with footage of recent events stored in everyone's memory, it becomes way more poignant and powerful. This notion is repeated in the first of her single release’s, ’Just Human’. A song that sounds like both Philip Glass and Bjork, Hardman reminds the audience that we are all tangible and that we are just organic forms prone to disobedience and disaster. Consolation however, is within the hands of the many, and that we are connected and capable of great things.
Perhaps someone could spray paint her lyrics all over Donald Trump’s proverbial wall for everyone to see. This includes Mexicans, transgender people, Muslims and whomever else that self-centred narcissist has managed to offend.
Finally, we get ‘Little Fish’; this is Hardman’s other single, a beautiful waltz, and a song that runs on clockwork mechanisms set in the toy shop of yesteryear. It details the protagonists wants and needs to break free and come out of the bowl, see the world he or she inhibits. It is a clever Pop song, one that requires close inspection.
The success of the show was felt in the triumph and warmth expressed by Hardman and her followers. This was her night after all, and after many months spent organising the show and many years spent gigging/touring, she looked incredibly content with the result. Her two singles were separated by a plethora of deep thought and emotion emanating from the music. These tunes are far beyond ‘just being good songs’, they are incredibly well crafted, structured and designed.
My favourite song, ‘Unicycle To Space’, should be the song Hardman takes up with her, back up to the Hellenistic mountainous range where she resides. When she sings ‘Where will you go, where will you hide, where will you be tomorrow’; one can imagine that inquisitive listener in the record store or the uninitiated group of gig-goers yet to hear the beautiful poetry and music of Nicola Hardman, they'll convert, its hard not to.
This show was almost like gazing into the future and Hardman has certainly set the template. All these artists have something special, they offer more than standard Acoustic or Pop music. They incorporate elements of theatre, kitchen-sink drama, science fiction, love, compassion and optimism. They incorporate different genres and styles.
After the performance, the crowd cheered finished up their drinks. All had big smiles on their faces.
Nicola Hardman - https://www.facebook.com/nicolahardmanmusic/
Rachel Jean Harris
Vanessa Murray - https://www.facebook.com/VanessaMurrayMusic/
Review - Lewis McWilliam