One of the best things about doing this tour is seeing and hearing such a variety of different music.
The Studio up at the top of at Newcastle's Live Theatre has pin-drop perfect sound, and despite jet lag and rehearsing a new double bass player, this was a really good start to the tour for Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards. Their presentation was relaxed and informal but the arrangements of the songs, and their vocal harmonies, were intricate and exceptionally well-rehearsed.
Left to right, the Dance Cards are double bass, violin/banjo, violin and cello, and sonically they are a blend of sometimes classical sounding strings, and a hillbilly flavour. I made lots of notes: Pablo Casales meets Dolly Parton (there was some great almost-aggressive attacking of the cello with the bow); the Zombies (and in particular, Colin Blunstone's say You Don't Mind, one of my all-time favourite singles); and Peter Asher's vignettes on James Taylor's first album, little interludes between the songs that add so much to the atmosphere. And Debussy, of course!
They told us that the roots of the music were in Scottish Fiddle Camp, but together they have made something that far transcends what you would imagine that to be. The harmonies (even on the songs from the new album, which have an almost girl-group thing going on) are delicate and wispy, almost ethereal. You have to listen in to catch them; they float above the string arrangements like drifting clouds of sound, adding to the atmosphere of songs that are sometimes quite dark: for instance the murder ballad Brown Wrinkled Dress which was inspiring in its traditional and chilling lyrics. Sometimes the violins are played like fancy ukes; the instruments are actors in the dramas of the songs, and take on all sorts of different characters. In between, there's some warm-hearted anecdotes about manoeuvring their huge 9-seater van into the underground car park, and other tour talk: and a synchronised swimming film is being made in Oregon to the track Skipping Stones (which was one of the top songs of a really lovely set). Everything is held together by Laura's expressive voice, which never overpowers her band but which centres the music on the storytelling in each song, and is absolutely flawless.
That audience was massively appreciative and the group came back for an encore, which they played acoustically with the lights dimmed to zero, giving us a chance to hear their immaculate sound close-up.
And thank you audience, for giving me a good reception, and for Shippy and the Jumping' Hot Club for being such good hosts. Lovely too, to see friends there. Big luv to you x
I couldn't resist the night-time shot from the hotel window, and also one of the helicopter that took off at breakfast-time.
Now that's what I call a classy experience.