SWAP Festival; ft Thea Gilmore, Martin Joseph, Isobel Heyworth et al
Manchester Academy 2 & 3 - 01.07.2005

A celebration of songwriters and publishers was opened up fittingly by Jon Barrie Southall who made sure the unsigned showcase in Academy 3, had a dose of no frills sincerity. A blues tinged Tom Waits flavoured, woe vanquishing set that saw ‘Projection’ catch the attention by demonstrating that an acoustic guitar, a slightly coarse voice and some undiluted emotion is all you need in order to produce thoughtful and engaging music.

There was barely time to draw breath when it was down to the bigger hall-like Academy 2 to catch the lovelorn country commander Sam Hammond, wooing gatherers awaiting Thea Gilmore the first big draw of the event. A compelling tale of the fragility of human emotions and the harshness of manipulators in ‘Pawn In Her Endgame’ stood out, whereby he used his acoustic guitar alongside a firm and calming, yet troubled vocal country style that Jonathon Donahue has graced us with over the years. ‘Roll The Other Dice’ was a longing addition to proceedings that brought to mind contemporary Willy Mason. With a modicum of luck the two could very well soon be equals.  A fiddle element was added to bring matters to a catchy and spirited end.

Manchester based Fulton’s Point were giving the unsigned event some The Byrds-esque country rock with the aid of a special guest; a soaring fiddler. ‘Roll, Roll, Roll’ took matters from strolling to trotting on the unsigned stage as they threatened to provide yet another Liverpool-Manchester rivalry, by stepping proudly into the territory of The Stands.  It was then time to go straight back downstairs to witness the epitome of the singer/songwriter ethos; Sam Hammond. Using his acoustic guitar as a robust weapon, he lashed out at World Leaders, poverty and injustice to become the Bono of the festival. His tender side was shown in the crisp and captivating; ‘I wouldn’t do anything to Hurt You’. Martyn could easily churn out pop anthems with his commanding voice and charismatic presence, but he has chosen to become music’s equivalent of an Oxford graduate going into academia, shunning the lure of the city and its plentiful cash.

I decided trudge upstairs once more to peer into the musical world of the dreadlocked Pierre Hall, who may not have a tuneful voice but possesses insight. However, he was the first artist to be limited by an acoustic guitar, as you just wanted Jools Holland’s backing band to appear and allow him to let loose and lose himself in the show.

I was slightly out of breath at this point, but exalted by the fact that Thea (Gilmour) time had descended upon us, with the Oxfordshire songstress marking her entrance by paying homage to Bob Geldoff and the proceeding days Live 8 festivities. Events commenced in a maudlin manner with the leading lady’s vocals hovering between Aimee Mann, Bjork and Dido. Early inclusion of oldie; ‘When Did You Get So Safe?’ from her ‘Songs From The Gutter’ album set a sombre mood to proceedings, as moon-eyed gatherers looked on enthralled and captivated in Thea’s charming stage presence. A low key cover of Van Morrisons ‘Crazy Love’ made for a campfire style sing-along.

The set took off when the full band entered the fray, as Thea hit us with a song that was inspired when somebody told our heroine her life story in ten minutes. This then became condensed to a third of that time and became, ‘Juliet (Keep That In Mind)’.

It was time for an Isobel Heyworth interlude and my entrance to that venue resembled the scene that greets primary school teachers the country over on a Monday morning. Frivolous chit chat was taking place that continued into this Joni Mitchell fending off Bjork, Emiliana Torrini and a young Charlotte Church, four song snippet of a starlet’s growing repertoire. The lone figure caressing an acoustic guitar provided ethereal music that will have exclusive restaurant owners starting a courgette fight in order get her to play at their premises.

‘I Am Worn’ was charmingly followed with ‘By Hook Or By Crook’ that saw Isobel’s voice massaging minds better than a weekend of karma. It is no surprise that debut CD ‘On the Back of an Envelope’ has now sold out on her website. Miss. Heyworth will not be playing in unsigned events for very long. Something special was witnessed tonight, it is just a shame that many people elected to discuss how pissed Tom was the night before most of the way through it.

There was just about time to see Thea in her full Shania Twain style flow, although the album that was most reminiscent of this artist; ‘The Lipstick Conspiracies’ barely made a smear on the set list. A friendly and heart-warming ending was ensured by way of a cover of Al Jarreau’s ‘Lean On Me’. Even more heart-warming was the fact that there are still the likes of The Be Good Tanyas, Amos Lee, Shane Mcgowan and Steve Earle to come in this tantalising 3 day showpiece.

David Adair

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