You might not have heard of Red Balloon Music, but you should. They put on some of the best and most diverse folk nights in the country at The Castle in Manchester. This humid Saturday afternoon they were asked to curate a stage as part of the Bridgewater Hall's Festival and came up with a dazzling line up. We caught six of the nine acts on show - Jonny Whitehead, From Carbon, Edwin Miles, Laura James, Tom Blackwell and Liam McClair.
The first act we catch is Jonny Woodhead who apparently found out about his participation two minutes before he went on stage due to a late withdrawal. He shows no signs of it though, despite playing with a borrowed guitar that he keeps telling us is out of tune, as he plays all four songs from his recently released EP Words With The Weathermen. He's unfazed by children running around (the show was part of a series of free events put on by the Bridgewater) as he delivers his songs that are rich in detail and undoubtedly personal - he introduces one called Sarah as about his sister - and the emotion he puts into each song is very vivid throughout all four.
Next up are From Carbon, the only band playing on the line up today and whilst they can't deliver the full extent of the sound due to the surroundings, they're still a mightily impressive six-piece even though pianist Fiona is so far away from the rest of the band who are cramped on the tiny stage. They play three songs from their debut album Wealth - its title track, Everything Is Control and Darkness and two new ones - Existence and a first ever play of a song called Revolving Door - show a band that's still developing their anthemic sound. Their front man Scott charms the audience with his between song patter and the combination of guitar, bass, violin, drums and piano gives weight to their ambitious anthemic sounds that wouldn't feel out of place in the main hall here such is their gravitas.
Next up is Edwin Miles and you have to feel sorry for him as the children are at their most boisterous and loud as he starts his set. Not that he seems to notice such is the intensity he puts into his performance. He never stands still, often has his eyes shut as he delivers five songs that have a ferocity to them that we don't witness elsewhere today, they feel that he's using them as a means of dispersing his anger and frustration. Cotton Wool is probably the favourite of a set that feels more suited to a dark smoky room than the bright family festival, but Edwin impressed us immensely.
Next up is Laura James, a singer songwriter we hadn't heard much of for quite a while, and we'd forgotten just how beautiful a voice she possesses. Her songs are so delicate and fragile that you think they're about to break at any minute as if they are her means of letting go of inner heartaches that she's too shy or afraid to let out other than in song. She tells us before playing Elliot Smith's Twilight that she judges people on whether they like him or not - something that any music lover does whether they admit to it or not. The children have gone by this point, but there's still distractions as she laughs off the sound of a reggae band downstairs that threatens to drown out one song. She finishes with one of her own songs This Is Where and the crowd, silent throughout, give her the best reception of the day and it's thoroughly deserved.
Next up is Tom Blackwell, the artist formerly known as T G Elias. Whilst he's changed his performing name, his style certainly hasn't changed and that's a very good thing indeed. He jokes that it feels more like a conference than a gig at the start and later invites us to his gig in Macclesfield with an open invitation for a drink on the train. That rough-edged warmth runs through his songs too - Broke, Bruised and Busted from last year's Tyrone The Gun album is a case in point. He asks who has seen him before and when most of us reply in the affirmative, he groans that we've all heard Southbound Otley Highway, his final song, before as he always finishes with it. No one minds though.
Last but no means least is Liam McClair and he starts by taking the rare opportunity to perform two songs on the piano. Whilst it's difficult then to see him, he plays a song called Peter Pan, which we haven't heard before, that shows his knack of creating honest, heartfelt songs that connect with his audience is showing no signs of abating. He follows it with his early single Honest, his warm tones perfect for this setting and the piano it's played on. One of his EP tracks Oh Mary gets a rare outing on acoustic guitar, and again we can almost hear a pin-drop (there's a break on events downstairs) as he delivers a rich tune full of emotion. He concludes with his last single Hunted, which was recorded with a band, which suggests he's seeking a slightly harder edge to some of his songs as he progresses, but it works equally as well as the softer tracks in his repertoire.
Jonny Woodhead is on Facebook and Twitter.
From Carbon's website can be found here. They are also on Facebook and Twitter.
Edwin Miles' website can be found here and he is on Facebook and Twitter.
Laura James' website can be found here. She is also on Facebook and Twitter.
Tom Blackwell's website can be found here. He is also on Facebook and Twitter.
Liam McClair's website can be found here. He is also on Facebook and Twitter.
Red Balloon Music hold regular events at the Castle in Manchester - their Facebook page with details can be found here.
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