Brona McVittie – Glass Studio, St George’s, Bristol

Saturday 26th January, 2019

Not only my inaguaral visit to the Glass Studio, but its first use as a concert space. As part of their extension St George’s built this intimate and lovely space. Seating 40 and with a sloped, gradient ceiling and wooden sound batons (all beautifully done) it maintains the excellent acoustics that the main hall is so famous for. No stage, so that the performers are on your level, adds to the intimate feel and suited Brona perfectly. I could have done without the fairy circle lights (more Mordor to me!) It was a nice idea, my eyes  struggled with the contrast though (I blow out candles on restaurant tables for same reason) so perhaps the balance could be better managed next time.

Brona walked through us to reach the performance area, all bare foot and long hair, towards her harp. So far, so folk standard. She was joined by Anne Garner on flute and backing vocals and Jack on a homemade lap steel guitar. Now I love a lap steel, but I’ve never seen one used in folk before. Nor the effects pedals, electronic boxes, switches, samples nor drum machine. This was folk, Jim, but not as we know it! “Steering folk into the 21st Century” is how St George’s had billed this. Needless to say, as someone who loves folk and electronic music, I loved this.

This was a wonderful marriage of traditional Irish folk songs, singing techniques, harp and flute with electronic affects and the lap steel to bear something old yet new to life. Brona sang a mixture of her own compositions (inspired by nature – she is also a biologist apparently), trad songs and inspired covers. It was gentle and beautiful, the perfect music to lift a rainy and cold winters night where I felt as dark as the rain.

During the interval I got a message from a friend, far away and at different gig entirely, “that feeling you get when an artist makes you wipe your eye 3rd song in” all I could do was reply “snap” Brona’s third song was a cover of Sometimes It Snows In April by Prince. On a harp and with her lilting Northern Irish accent. Not what I was expecting to hear this evening, but a wonderful surprise. I was weeping and I doubt I was the only one.

There were other covers, including a Dolly Parton song I didn’t know but must dig out. One of Brona’s own songs has a very long title, inspired she said by Pink Floyd who have a song with an 18 word title and W.B Yeats (where else would you get both of those as references eh?!) Neither of which will topple The Supremes Your Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart And I Can’t Scratch It as my favourite long titled song. Now a version of that on the harp would be something to hear! I can also confirm, having visited Newry, that Brona is right, that despite the song, there is no mountain there.

There was so much to take from this gig, so much light chasing away the winters darkness. So many things to say/discuss/ask Brona but I was too shy to approach. I didn’t want to write this last night, either, as I wanted to reflect and listen to Brona’s album again first. Sometimes music grabs you and sometimes it grows. Other times, and if you lucky, it does both. My attention was piqued last night, but I want to hear it all again. If you could find your way back to Bristol to play again, Brona, I’d appreciate it. Perhaps the Folk Festival could find you a slot, or maybe St George’s could have you back. I’d like that very much indeed.

 

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