I am sitting very comfortably on a squidgy sofa, warm beverage that looks pleasantly like a mystical lagoon in one hand, purple pencil for writing stuff and looking self-loathingly pretentious in the other. Tonight we are upstairs at Leaf for the Kathryn Williams gig, courtesy of Mellowtone: “Intimate venues in Liverpool. Roots/Folk/Blue/Songwriters. We continue to quietly create a stir.” And here I feel they may be onto a winner – as we climb up the stairs we enter the 1920s (when Leaf used to be a Cinema). Orbs of glittery things dangle from the ceiling, all peeling paint and polished floors, tea-lights in jam jars. The room is set up like a Jazz club, and indeed, there is Jazz – Mellowtone’s resident Beaten Tracks DJs meld the evening together most elegantly with “a selection of dusty and forgotten gems”, as promised. There is a real buzz in here tonight, and I am reassured by the demographic of the audience, half of whom seem to me like sensible, cardigan wearing folk. The other half could quite possibly be pirates; there is a strange chest on stage anyway, and I shall be disappointed if it is not full of their treasure.
Matt Deighton is the first to take to the stage and, immediately self-effacing, he puts the crowd at ease. There is a bit of a Randy Newman twang to his voice, and his gently bubbling guitar provides the perfect space for his quietly intense songs to circulate. In this, he reminds me a little of Joni Mitchell – there is such a sense of knowledge and having known people in his narratives. The comparison also partly comes from his use of progressions of major, minor and crunch diminished chords in songs like ‘String This Heart’, which characterise Joni Mitchell’s album ‘Song to a Seagull’, and perhaps ‘Woodface’ by Crowed House. Occasionally the guitar breaks free into melodious bluesy riffs, or snippets of Irish reel. Overall, one gets the impression that Matt Deighton shares his songs purely for the love of music. And he is rightly met with an attentive audience, many cocked heads, silence but for the clink of china and thunderous applause.
Next, Lizzie Nunnery and Vidar Norheim make a dramatic entrance with their song ‘5,000 Birds’: a veritable tribal call of a folk song. The duo’s music is carried by Lizzie’s strident, yet soft voice and round Yorkshire vowels, undercut by Vidar’s incredibly sensitive accompaniment, ranging from magical brushwork on a sparkly snare drum, to the notoriously difficult tambourine to – and here the plot thickens- harmonium (herein lies the mystery of the chest, and the best kind of treasure). And it is truly lovely – again, there is a real compassion in this music, which sounds as through it draws on waulking or work songs. You can almost hear the voices of many very real people in Lizzie’s voice. Much like the birds that sing at 2:30 in the morning, Lizzie Nunnery and Vidar Norheim have something very important to say. And they say it so very well: the song ‘Sand’, about memory loss, is particularly impactful. Every word is made to sound meaningful, through such simple means – and this is the theme of the night. Think Joan Baez mixed with the slightly scary bit at the end of ‘Bed knobs and Broomsticks’. All this was carried off with an endearing stage presence, my favourite piece of stage chit-chat being “there’s a little bit in this one that you can sing along to if you’d like, but please don’t feel pressured”. Look out for their new EP ‘Songs of Drink and Revolution’.
Lastly, the eagerly awaited Kathryn Williams and band came to the fore, with the greeting “I feel like I’m on a blind date with a lots of people”, which summed up the very considerate relationship between audience and performer quite nicely. This gentle humour pervaded the set and Kathryn’s songs, a particular highlight being her anecdote that the last time she was upstairs at Leaf, she was jumping on a pile of coats (it transpires that Leaf was also a clothes shop, run by Kathryn’s parents). There was also the mid-song “bless you” proffered to an anonymous sneeze. Kathryn has a very pretty, slightly whispery voice. Pitch perfect. A little like Emily and the Woods, or The Unthanks. The cellist played like the sea, all fluid and fruity and deep and just how a cello should sound. It transpired that he also dabbled in bass and piano as the set went on. The guitarist entered this unity of musicians, who could have melted into each other, such was the sense of space and polish. The joy of listening to a group of people who really know what they’re doing – craftsmanship, I suppose. This sense of self assurance extended even to a very ambitious use of a loop pedal, which I always find slightly dubious for fear it should suddenly get confused and explode – but not so here, instead Kathryn built up what must have been a 15 part harmony, which sounded much like a brass band, if a bit shouty.
The lyrics are slightly strange and very simple, like a bed time story. Most of her songs were taken from her new album Crown Electric, and recounted the everyday struggles of the everyman, the trials of a busy life being particularly prominent in her song ‘Hours’. There was a definite sense of melancholy resignation which comes through a lot more in live performance than in her recordings. ‘Underground’, a song written after a panic attack at a train station, was particularly moving. Before coming to the gig I was worried that the set would be lacking in a certain something – originality perhaps, or impact. But I was, thankfully, wrong. And anyway, that is not what this music is about –creating something shiny and new and different, per se, but something entire and beautiful and safe. Kathryn’s music is almost medicinal, soothing and head-clearing and cosy inside, while outside ‘it’ seems to have forgotten that it’s Spring. As the band left the stage, Kathryn thanked the audience for supporting live music and riled against the difficulties of working in the music industries today. I can’t help thinking that for both of us, tonight was exactly what the doctor ordered.