The Attic at The Railway
Wednesday 14th October 2015
Anna Mitchell set:
Anna Mitchell – vocal, piano
Long Time Gone
When My Ship Comes In
What’s A Fool To Do?
A beautiful opening set on piano and vocals, Anna Mitchell judged it perfectly too. I always say that support acts doing new material, so everything is “first time” for the audience, should include one well-known cover, We got it with Dolly Parton’s Jolene. We also got two songs Radio Waves and Get Out from work in progress … her next album.
The rest are all on her Down To The Bone album … note my signed post-gig purchase. The album has a full band backing her, but such is the way with support slots, you have to be able to perform them on your own, and if you’ve only got the one instrument, piano is the most versatile choice. All of her set was piano only with the harmonium reserved for Simone Felice’s set.
I’ve said the same about Simone Felice for years, but it applies to Anna Mitchell equally. Anytime in the 70s, these two would have been grabbed instantly by a major label, money would have been invested and their talents would have reached a major audience. Nowadays artistes have to sell their CDs at the gig, and only talent contest people get promoted – almost always with sub-karaoke versions of hit songs. Why isn’t there room to promote singer-songwriters like Anna Mitchell? Back in 1970, I recall that a minor band with their first album on A&M (an exceptionally artiste-friendly label) could turn up for a small gig in a small town and find the local record store (a record store being something openly older readers will know) had a full window display of their album. Long gone.
But sitting there listening to her marvellous material, I just wish a time machine could gee it the justice and promotion it deserves.
Simone Felice set
Simone Felice – vocal guitar
Anna Mitchell – vocal, piano, harmonium, percussion
One More American Song
Splendor In The Grass
If You Go to LA
Bye Bye Palenville
Dawn Brady’s Son
One Night Stands
You and I Belong
Our Lady of The Gun
Hey Bobby Ray
Don’t Wake The Scarecrow
New York Times
The Morning I Get To Hell
If You Ever Get Famous
LINK TO DOWNLOADS OF NEW LIVE DOUBLE ALBUM AT SIMONE FELICE’s SITE
The set list is not an accurate running order … I didn’t make notes. The songs are right, but in the middle the order is guesstimate. There was a song list on the stage floor and several of us took SmartPhone pics, but it wasn’t a setlist nor a running order, just a list of possible songs. As I thought, Simone Felice reacts to the moment rather than following a pre-ordained set-in-stone set. That’s why he needs a flexible musician with him. For the first time, this is the same line-up as the time before … just him with Anna Mitchell. There’s a purity of energy about the delivery. You cannot fail to be moved by his intensive expressive voice and lyrics. It’s not simply “listening” it’s being transfixed, drawn in and taken into a world created by the lyric and performance. The last couple of years we see more theatre than live music, and there is a theatricality about the delivery which is magic.
Simone has a new live double CD out, From the Violent Banks of The Kaaterskill which was recorded with Anna Mitchell, his brothers, Simi Sernaker (which seems to be another name for Simi Stone from The Duke & The King… who is due at The Attic next month) and others. The set broadly covered songs on the live album. The noticeable absentee, both on the live album and in the set is his “virtual hit” Shaky.
Just about halfway through the PA system started crackling. They tried switching off mics and instruments, but the noise didn’t go, so to everyone’s delight, the mic was put away and Simone and Anna sang unplugged in the room. That might have changed things and set choices because she’d lost her electric piano, so we only got her piano in Bye Bye Palenville (before the crackle), then it was harmonium or tambourine only, but there is nothing like unamplified human voice in a small space.
On balance, it was lighter on the Strangers album than I had expected. It was down to just three … Bye Bye Palenville, Our Lady of The Gun and If You Go To LA (which is now essential because of its singalong chorus). Bye Bye Palenville was the stand out song of the evening, a mix of the intensity of the autobiographical lyrics, the gentle beautiful piano playing and Anna Mitchell’s harmonies. There’s a 2014 version on YouTube, recorded in a converted St Pancras church before a gig (SEE LINK). There were no cover versions in the encore for a change … on the album, as last time, Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd) comes on.
Our Lady of The Gun was an audience request … Simone said they hadn’t done it on the tour, but they decided to try it anyway It wasn’t on the list on the floor.
The big addition was One Night Stands which was announced as making its first appearance on the new live album. It’s actually a retitled take on Radio Silence, a song bundled with Shaky on the CD single.
With Anna Mitchell, there is a slight leaning towards more The Duke & The King material. Both encore songs Water Spider and If You Ever Get Famous were Duke and The King songs, and the main set ended with The Morning I Get To Hell.
Major reviewers liken Simone to Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and rightly so, but you’d have to add the edge of Neil Young. And more charisma. Simone is indeed the Poet and The One Man Band, which makes a comparison with the live album.
This is the seventh time I’ve seen him live. Ever-changing line-ups are a given, but central is the voice, the words and that great acoustic guitar strumming. He has the rhythm you’d expect from someone who played drums with his brothers’ band. You get addicted to the magic of sparse instrumentation, just voice and guitar, though the addition of a backing voice like Simi Stone or Anna Mitchell is a major plus. So is seeing him put the guitar aside in Bye Bye Palenville and just relying on Anna’s piano. He can’t travel with a large band, and it’s fascinating to see how he retains the sparseness, the spaces, even when a band is with him, as on the live album. The extra instrumentation is held back and used as accent when needed. Just because he has a drummer and a bass guitarist there does not mean they have to play all the time. They’re like a horn section or a string section, used only when needed. The cello is notable. On the album, the bass and drums are reserved for the last choruses in Bye Bye Palenville though you get the ethereal backing vocal and strings earlier … just a touch.
One thing I thought playing the live album (as I write this, just the once) is I’d love to see him tour with brother James and a Hammond … plus Anna Mitchell on piano and him on guitar. That’s all. The organ additions and accents throughout the live album are fabulous. In some ways, as on Don’t Wake the Scarecrow the addition of drumming, however excellent, which it is, takes away some of the ability to phrase it and alter it as he goes along. Watching Simone is like watching the old blues singers I saw in the 1960s and 1970s. When they were playing alone they played 12.5 bars or 11.75 or 11.9 bars as the mood of the words took them. Put in a (British, young) backing band and they had to do a 12 bar. Mind you, on the live album, From the Violent Banks of The Kaaterskill, they’re all extremely gifted at watching him and following, not leading.
It is of course a “must have” album.