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Barons Court Alive

by on 12 September 2021

Yesteryear Lives Now

Barons Court Alive

Star Child, at Baron’s Court Theatre, The Curtains Up until 11th September

Review by Vince Francis

A balmy September evening, a quirky pub in a side street in Barons Court, a darkened, vaulted cellar, with a small stage illuminated by an artfully placed light string.  Add in a poetic girl with flowing red hair, dressed in paisley top and pyjama-striped trousers, delivering heartfelt folk-based compositions whilst accompanying herself on acoustic guitar, supported by a stylish young chap on a jazz-voiced electric guitar.  Top it all off with a decent pint and one could seriously be back in 1966.  But this was no mere flibbertigibbet fantasy, no boozy bagatelle; no, indeed.  This was Baron’s Court Live at The Curtains Up Theatre (and pub) and the aforementioned songstress is the lyrical Aurora Manola, who, with Deniz Stern on electric guitar, make up Star Child.

The theatre at The Curtains Up is in what was the cellar for the pub and, OK, the ceiling technically isn’t vaulted, it’s supported by brick arches.  But, whatever, it is an intimate space and I’m sure you’ll forgive the poetic licence.  Old cinema chairs form the short rows around three sides of the playing area, adding to the feel of a different era.

I did have a moment’s concern when I saw the two amplifiers on stage, but no microphones.  The electric guitar would, of course, need to be amplified to get an audience level sound, but in a small space like this, it would be very easy to overpower the audience and run into sound issues.  Also, attempting to sing over an amplified instrument might result in some vocal straining.  However, my concerns were instantly allayed.  The electric – a stylish hollow-body, which I think was an Ibanez – got just the “lift” it needed to be heard, but perhaps could have done with a touch more top end on the amp.   Amplifying the acoustic provided the opportunity to add a soupçon of reverb, which enhanced the “fullness” of sound without increasing the volume overly and this, in turn, added to the ambience of the set.  All of which meant that the vocals didn’t need amplifying and the overall result was a pleasingly natural sounding acoustic performance.

A nod toward the use of the Marshall acoustic amp, too.  Marshall Amplification, historically, aimed at the electric guitar based Rock and Metal markets, which makes them sound like commodity traders, but their stock in trade has actually been the high-gain, overdriven sounds of the likes of Clapton, Hendrix, Slash and Iron Maiden.  The venture into amplifiers for acoustic guitars only occurred, I think, around the early 2000’s.  I have one that I bought in 2002.  It’s still in regular use and I’ve only recently been tempted to stray from it.  They are, in my humble opinion, much underrated. 

Geek stuff aside, this was the premier for the music performed in the first set, some written by Aurora herself and some in collaboration with Deniz and others

The songs embody the influences of the great female folk artists of yore.  There was the reflectiveness of Joni Mitchell and the easy melodiousness of the recently and sadly departed Nanci Griffith.  The songs have their own identity, though, and gave us a relaxed and thoughtful insight into the duo’s musings.  I was unable to obtain a set-list, sadly, so I couldn’t record all the titles, but Time To Go On was particularly memorable.  Also worthy of a mention is the last song in the set, which demonstrated a more sophisticated composition and worked well.  Aurora’s voice gently engaged us and kept us eager to hear the next phrase/verse/song.  Deniz Stern supported, enhanced and decorated the songs with tasteful Blues and Country influenced licks and added a relaxed baritone vocal harmony where required.  Suffice it to say that the audience were vocal in their support for the folk-based output and so was I.  The “girl and guitar” market is, currently, quite extensively populated and some additional quality is required to ensure that any particular artiste stands out.  This duo demonstrated the potential to achieve that, and I’d happily go to another Star Child gig.  I would encourage you to do so, too.

The second set was a little more muscular in its approach.  Aurora and Deniz were joined by Trystan Winn-Davies and it was immediately apparent that Trystan is a strong and confident performer, happy to communicate with the audience directly and vocally accomplished.  This set was a covers set, opening with Eric Clapton’s Change the World from 1998, which gave Deniz a chance to demonstrate his considerable soloing skills.  We were also treated to the Rolling Stones’ Wild Horses from 1971 and Paul McCartney’s Blackbird from 1968, which is one of those songs that is almost equivalent to a masonic handshake among fingerpickers.  There were impressive vocal harmonies on the Crosby, Stills & Nash 1969 original Helplessly Hoping and the set ended with Neil Young’s Old Man from 1972, which was written as a tribute to the caretaker of his ranch in California. 

All of the above were delivered with great energy and enthusiasm and deservedly received in likewise manner, particularly by this old geezer.  These three worked well as a trio.

However, I put the dates in there for a reason.  It struck me that in all probability and with the possible exception of Change the World none of the performers was born when these songs were written and for this style of acoustic music there have been many artists since, and currently, who have developed and evolved the genre.  A tribute to the strength of writing, perhaps?  I don’t know, but I did find it interesting – and it’s not in any way a criticism.

Anyway, all in all a very satisfying evening of music in an atmospheric, if a little warm, venue.  If you see either a Star Child or a Trystan Winn-Davis flyer in your neighbourhood, go give them a look. 

Vince Francis, September 2021

Photography by Alice Lubbock

From → Cabaret, Gigs

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