Sunday 17 September 2023

Little Sparrow / J P Worsfold / Eva - Manchester Portico Library - 16th September 2023

Little Sparrow returned to the beautiful Portico Library, one of Manchester's best kept secrets, a year after her first performance there for a trio show revealing new material and reinvigorating old favourites.  Support came from J P Worsfold and Eva who delivered compelling sets perfectly observed by a respectful audience in a stunning setting.

You'd struggle to stumble across The Portico Library. It's hidden above The Bank pub on Mosley Street in Manchester, accessed by a side door on Charlotte Street where several sets of stairs leads you to a door that opens to reveal a treasure trove of vintage books in a beautifully sculptured room. It's far from your traditional gig location, but with gorgeous acoustics, three very different artists and an audience that didn't need instructions to know how to behave, it felt like the most appropriate place for one.

Eva opens the evening with two self-penned songs. The eighteen year old is a friend of Katie (Little Sparrow) and has grown up with her daughter who's the same age. This is her first gig and she's nervous, but the minute she starts to play and sing, in a very understated way that draws you closer to listen to stories of what goes on in the head of a teenage girl learning about life, love and relationships. The two songs are well-structured, the guitar playing soft and rich and the vocal genuine and not striving to be something or someone she isn't. Hopefully it won't be her last gig.

J P Worsfold's stories were mostly written in his cabin in the Lake District, and accompanied by Anne Marie on cello and vocal harmonies, he weaves exquisite tales of love and loss, removing the microphone and letting his raw unamplified voice tell them. Lord On The Hill and Starstrung, which has audience participation, are particular highlights of a set of songs that are articulately crafted and delivered with a warmth and honesty that demands your attention and the audience give him just that impeccably. Flynn's Song is an emotional tribute to a friend who was lost way too young, the emotion in J P's voice cracking as a police siren outside broke the silent attention in the room as it sped past. The vocal harmonisation and intuitive connection with Anne Marie was delightful to behold, the two musically atuned and lifting these songs as their voices entwined.

You never quite know which formation of Little Sparrow's band is going to turn up at a gig and it's that which makes it always fascinating as the plethora of talented musicians with which Katie surrounds herself transform songs - guitar, keyboards, cello, violin, percussion, drums or just Katie alone with an acoustic guitar.  Tonight she's accompanied by Jonny Lexus on guitar and occassional backing vocals and Robin Dewhurst on keyboards. It's a year almost to the day since her last Manchester show which was also in this most beautiful of venues (it was also post our annual stocktake at work) and in that time she's written some new songs which she reveals tonight.

The first of them, Moondust, opens the set and it's dramatic, allowing Katie to both demonstrate the range in her voice but also visually bring the emotions of the song to life with her expressions and movements. It's an intensity and power that runs through the hour and a bit that they're on stage for. Older songs like Polly, Wishing Tree and The Swallow Flies feel reinvigorated alongside newer songs like Old News, Corner Of The Room and Alone as Katie prepares for the long-long-awaited release of her second album.

The library is a perfect setting for Little Sparrow. The songs are imbibed with a rich vein of storytelling, both in the songs themselves and in Katie's explanations of them - tales of listening to her father playing Tears when she was younger and her adopting it as her own, her being told to write something more commercial and then writing a song from the point of view of a spider, the story of Wishing Tree's video filmed in a forest with animal masks. 

The acoustics also work magically, the deftness in Jonny's guitars and the subtleties in Robin's keyboards fill the hushed space yet give Katie's voice centre stage, rich and evocative and utterly compelling. There's not a whisper from the crowd until the end of each song which shouldn't be something to note, but unfortunately is these days. We are asked to join in with the harmonies on the heart-melting declaration of love that is Struck Gold though. 

Even more than a decade into this Katie still seems a little taken aback from the strength of reaction she gets. The phrase "best kept secret" is often thrown around at artists who are well known in the circles that they operate. That phrase perfectly sums up Little Sparrow though, a magical artist who weaves spells with her music and voice and enchants all those who happen upon her and her very rare live outings. In such perfect intimate surroundings as the Portico magic is cast to the background of the bustling city noise outside.

Little Sparrow's website can be found here and she is also on Twitter and Facebook

J P Worsfold's website can be found here and he is on Facebook.

Follow Even The Stars on Twitter at @eventhestarsuk and like our Facebook page for all the latest updates

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