Over the eleven years we’ve been fortunate to have Sage, Gateshead, the Northern Rock Room is the performance space in which I have been the least. Every time I have the pleasure, I am reminded how much I loved it on the previous occasions. It feels small, warm and intimate, almost reminiscent of a house concert. At various times during the evening all three members of Applewood Road commented on how much they loved it too.
The band is comprised of three singer songwriters, Amy Speace and Amber Rubarth from the USA and Australian Emily Barker, who has resided in the UK for over thirteen years. In September 2014, the trio met for the first time in a cafe in East Nashville and the next days they recorded their first collective song, Applewood Road, around a single microphone, at Nashville’s intriguingly named, Welcome to 1979, studio. Six months later their CD followed. Again, every song was performed live around a single microphone, in one take. It has received huge acclaim. Further positive exposure followed when they opened on tour with Mary Chapin Carpenter, wowing audiences.
Rather than a support act, the evening took the format of short solo sets from each of the three members, followed by a set together as Applewood Road.
With an easy style on stage and some gorgeous vocals and lyrics, Emily Barker got things off to a great start. Stories about her native Australia were shared amongst a variety of her songs, old and new. Accompanying herself on guitar and harmonica, we enjoyed songs such as ‘Blackbird’, ‘Hector’ (a song from a film of the same title), ‘Disappear’, inspired by author Tom Winton. One line in particular in Blackbird really stood out to me; “We always gain more than we leave behind.”
Amber Rubarth was next to the stage, with beautiful vocals which filled the room. Sharing her feelings about recent politics she played a very relevant song, ‘Wild Flowers in the Graveyard’. I loved her pronunciation of the word written. ‘In the Creases’ was very cleverly written and it seemed to me that the title could have more than one meaning, also striking was the use of very small details in the lyrics. One of her songs was inspired by both space and looking back on the end of a relationship, a strange juxtaposition but it makes a great song, with very thought provoking lyrics.
Amy Speace was last up for her solo set and had the audience in the palm of her hand. She has an easy rapport with the audience and a great sense of humour, which was more than evident when she changed lyrics and teased the audience about not whistling. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t yet seen the show! I was immediately struck by the vocal similarity to Joan Baez; from me a huge compliment, as she sang such songs as ‘The Fortunate Ones’, ‘The Weight of The World’, recorded by Judy Collins. As her last song ended, I was left with a feeling of wanting more.
After a break, they all took the stage as Applewood Road. Immediately, their style reminded me of the old sound style of Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay. Absolutely stunning. Their harmonies are so tight that at times it was impossible to tell there were three voices. I was reminded of The Judds and Madison Violet, on more than one occasion. The trio took turns to take the lead and harmonise throughout the set and accompanied themselves on guitar, banjo, harmonica and a drum, adding to the simplistic sound of their vocals. The audience were spellbound as they played songs such as ‘Finding My Way Back To You’ and ‘To The Stars’, which they recently performed on the Andrew Marr show. ‘Home Fires’ made my hairs stand on end, as did the narrative song ‘Bring The Car Round’, Josephine, inspired in part by Amy’s young niece. You could hear a pin drop during their rendition of The Trio’s ‘Dear Companion’, which they recently performed on a BBC documentary. The standout track for me, however, was, unexpectedly, a cover, the three delivering the most beautiful version of REM’s ‘Losing My Religion’, that I will ever hear. Stunning. Ironically, considering the title, it could have been a hymn in church.
All too soon, it was over. The three seemed genuinely appreciative and keen to return. We are certainly keen for them to return and I’m hoping it may be for SummerTyne 2017!
Thanks Amy, Amber and Emily, for a wonderful night. We certainly were the fortunate ones tonight and will keep the home fires burning at Sage Gateshead until we all meet again!
Photographer – Matt Flynn
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