We both have Wirral connections; Marc is from the Wirral originally, and Ruth has extended family there. However, funnily enough, we'd only played one gig over the water before (at Christmas, when we won the Wirral Carol Competition with A Song for Mary), so we were delighted to be asked to play at the Wirral Arts Centre for Seba Rashii Culture Zine's Creative Watch Area.
The Wirral Arts Centre is an absolutely gorgeous venue; a former Unitarian church, it has a beautiful domed stage area with a baby grand piano and marvellous acoustics. It's a pleasure to play there!
After soundchecks, a cup of tea, and some chit chat, we settled down to listen to the first artist, storyteller Andy Johnson, with a musical ghost story to get us all ready for the night! He was then followed by the first musician, Tiki Black.
Tiki took to the stage with her piano, and played a selection of beautiful, haunting, powerful songs. Many of her songs were about the way we try to hide away, behind masks, from our full potential, and were taken from her album, Out of the Black, which you can stream on Soundcloud and buy on iTunes. Tiki has a wonderful voice with a fantastic range, and her dulcet piano playing the perfect accompaniment. Our favourite was the title track from her album, though hard to make a choice as they were all so profound.
Next up was Tom George who started with some poetry. Tom is a seasoned performer; our favourite was moving poem about silence, during which you could hear a pin drop. (Literally, as he made use of such a prop to demonstrate his point!) Then he played some music, accompanied by flautist George Roberts (who played at our wedding), and included the wonderful Dance with my Shadow in his set. You can download Tom's music from Bandcamp.
After Tom came storyteller Andy Johnson again, with a sweet tale, which he told us was originally from Africa, about love, death and family, accompanied this time by Tom on guitar. The pairing worked wonderfully; Tom's incidental music was ideal for the story, but at no point took away from Andy's primary role as storyteller. Andy's gentle voice drew us into the story, with its beautiful message that no one is really dead while they are still remembered.
Then it was our turn. We played a variety of songs from our album, though started with classic folk ballad (Roud 397) Reynardine, which was also the b-side from our recent single. We then used the piano to play a live version of our short choral piece, (No Such Thing As) Wandering Stars, followed by the title track from our album, Amateur Astronomy. We then set out our instruments - including the psaltery - to play a short, live version of our epic multi-instrument track, Stars and Moon and Me and You, Love, which we followed with our a cappella song for Ruth's son / Marc's stepson, When I Was Your Age (which is a bonus track on our album).
We had originally planned to play our single, Ella Brown, at the gig. However, after watching the amazing Radio 1 prom (orchestral versions of classic 1990s/00s dance songs) we decided to dust off our cover of The Shamen's 1992 classic rave anthem, Ebeneezer Goode. It's a funny song to cover, as we are never sure how many people at a gig will remember the original, but we felt that at least one or two people there did, and it went down quite well. Also, the sound man said of our set, "shades of The Incredible String Band," which is quite probably the best compliment we've ever had!
The evening ended with the talents of Vernon Fuller. A versatile, virtuoso guitarist, Vernon switched easily between jazz, blues and acoustica, with catchy songs and a magnetic stage presence. He enlisted the help of a harmonica player in the audience at one point, and then got all of us to join in on some of his songs too. His songs were hugely enjoyable, and you can buy his music via his website; for us, in fact, it was his (semi-improvised?) experimental instrumental with delay pedal that really blew us away and in many ways was the highlight of our evening.
Alas lack of budget meant we weren't able to buy everyone's album from the evening (and it would have been impossible - and possibly rude - just to buy one artist's work and not the others!) so we left empty handed (we weren't brave enough to offer swapsies for our album!) but we'll certainly be listening to their music and keeping an eye out for their gigs in the future. We'd definitely recommend that you go and check them out, and also, go to a gig at the Wirral Arts Centre at some point.
Huge thanks to everyone at Wirral Arts Centre for putting us on such a fantastic line-up, for the sound, and the cups of tea! Thanks to Seb for organising everything, and for the wonderful review of our album in the magazine, too. We'll definitely be back, whether as spectators or musicians, a wonderful place.