Kathryn William / Amos Lee - Manchester Academy 3 - 3.7.05

From the 1st July to Sunday 3rd July all three of the Academy venues in Manchester are hosting the Songwriters and Publishers Festival, more commonly known as SWAP. Featuring Shane McGowan (Ed: who cancelled due to illness at the last minute), Steve Earle and many more performers of a high calibre this is an opportunity to see a diverse range of musicians playing great music.

On a Sunday afternoon in Academy 3 the start of Amos Lee's set is running a little late, but a documentary crew outside interviewing the crowd passes the time quite pleasantly. Amos Lee has just released his self titled debut album on the Blue Note label. The man himself is casually dressed wearing a distinctive hat, unshaven and so laid back he's virtually sophoric. He's
joined on stage by a guitarist and occasional backing vocalist.

I'm right in front of the stage with an assortment of photographers fiddling with their equipment, all prepared for the perfect shot of this Philadelphia born rising star. The first song he plays is coincidentally the opening track of his album, "Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight" which features Norah Jones (sadly not here tonight) on piano. Amos' vocal is absolutely captivating. It's subtle but strong, tender, rich with a jazz tinged folk simplicity that fits the songs as snugly as a glove. You can detect every nuance of such an individual sounding voice.

"Seen It All Before" has the direct command of a "go ahead baby, run away again" and the bluesy vibe is so natural. "Bottom Of The Barrel" features mandolin and has a country feel while a song currently untitled is a slow burning love song full of sorrow with the realization that "lovers will come, lovers will go", a well observed lyric.

Announcing "Love In The Lies" Amos tells the audience that it was written in Philadelphia where both himself and his guitarist are from. There's a lot of chat from young Amos, with passion and conviction. He's even playing another gig later on tonight at Matt and Phreds and even asks for directions to the tiny venue from the locals who stand before him. Finishing with "Arms Of A Woman" Amos Lee performs this ballad with a glow of melancholy as he gently strums his guitar to the sound of a man nakedly baring his soul who admits to still being afraid of turning off the lights.

This afternoon has introduced the beginning of what I predict to be a glittering career for certain. Amos Lee deserves every single word of praise which has been heaped upon him recently.

Kathryn Williams makes a welcome return to the Academy 3. Recently married, she's just brought out a new album of original material "Over Fly Over", just under a year since her eclectic covers album album. Admitting she was nervous that hardly anyone would turn up at such an early time slot (6.15). Kathryn relaxes into her set, takes time to confide to her
fans and lovingly plays songs from her now extensive back catalogue. Looking refreshed and at ease with the audience (Kathryn has been known to suffer nerves when performing live) our auburn haired softly spoken singer is joined by Laura Reid on cello and David Scott on guitar who both multi-instrumentalists of the highest order. While performing "Sole To Feet"
Kathryn admits to breaking her bow at Glastonbury and is now using a brand new one.

"Beachy Head" off the new album is described as a sunshine song about suicide and is a lyrical delight as well as a lilting folky timeless tune with a haunting melody. Two new songs are unveiled which are up to her usual standard. The first "When" features Laura on electric piano with David's soft acoustic playing on his guitar essential for creating a sense of calm on this wistful ballad. The second new song "Stevie" is about Kathryn's favourite poet Stevie Smith.

It's a respectful and devoted audience who watch in silent awe for most of the evening except for an over excited Scottish man who is aghast when an Ivor Cutler song is played. He can hardly contain himself. "Old Low Light" about her husband is probably one of the most personal songs played all night.

For the encore a spirited rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" really sees Kathryn bellow out the high notes with gusto. With a cover of Pavement's "Spit On A Stranger" closing yet another enjoyable performance.

There are no airs and graces with Kathryn Williams. She's a real one off, natural, witty and extremely likeable and a fine underrated singer songwriter too.

Nicholas Paul Godkin

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