Sunday 11 September 2022

Little Sparrow / Chris Flynn - Manchester Portico Library - 10th September 2022

The intimate and beautiful surroundings of the Portico Library, hidden away above The Bank pub on Mosley Street played host to a rare Manchester outing for Little Sparrow performing tracks from her debut album Wishing Tree as well as from her long-awaited follow-up supported by Chris Flynn.

His unassuming modesty is possibly the reason Chris Flynn hasn't made more of a name for himself than the quality and simple beauty of his songs suggests he should have. Across his seven-song set there's no airs and graces, no big statements between them just a desire to get to the next one. That modesty is also a strength though, it makes you warm to him and draws you into these songs that have a timeless feel to them, crafted with an ear for classic songwriting structures and written from personal experiences that help them connect. The Portico Library crowd is silent, save for the occasional clink of a glass and the unavoidable creak of a chair as we're given a half hour reminder of the power and connection that one person and a guitar can create.

One of the endearing mysteries before any Little Sparrow gig is who is going to turn up with her. Over the years we've seen her perform with a vast array of musicians in different band formats, such is the versatility of these songs and, without wanting to downplay any of their contributions, the showstopping constant that is Katie Ware's voice. Tonight has a familiar set of characters, although possibly one that we've not seen in combination before, Sarah Dale on cello, Robin Dewhurst on keyboards and Jonny Lexus on guitar and gruff sarcastic between song interactions. Like most intuitive musical relationships, they sound like they've been playing together for ever, when the reality is that they've probably had minimal rehearsal time because of the commitments that come with real life when you're not a full-time band.

They start by coming on stage individually, first Sarah, then Robin and Jonny, playing their instruments and building to Katie's entrance and a wonderfully emotional and unsetlisted Tender, one of her most emotional songs which feels even more stark and beautiful in these majestic and unusual surroundings. It's then followed by a set that moves effortlessly between her debut album and the songs she's written and recorded since, the first half of the set mainly featuring the more recent material, including singles Alone and Tears, the latter written by her father which she recalls him singing to her as a child that she asked his permission to record herself. It's one of many stories that Katie tells between songs to give context to them as well as endearing the audience to her even more.

They also perform their stripped down cover of Baggy Trousers, totally reinvented for keys, cello and acoustic guitar and almost indistinguishable from the original save for the lyrics. Stuck Gold has audience participation, the crowd's harmonies replacing instruments for most of the song. The set ends with two more tracks from Wishing Tree - I Found A Way and The Swallow Flies - and an impromptu encore, past the venue's 9pm curfew, of By My Side which means there's no room for crowd favourites Heart and Sending The Message, testament to the impressive body of work that Katie has slowly built over the time she's been performing as Little Sparrow. 

The warmth and love in the room is palpable, the songs being performed to total silence other than the roars of approval at the end of each of them with a few people round the room silently mouthing the words to themselves. These events are few and far between, this one inspired by a couple sat at the front who suggested this wonderful space to Katie for a gig and which works perfectly both in terms of visual setting and atmosphere which complements the work of one of the city's finest songwriters and singers.

Little Sparrow's website can be found here and she is also on Twitter and Facebook. She plays with Charm Of Finches at Salford Sacred Trinity on January 27th 2023.

Chris Flynn is on Facebook and Twitter.


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