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Gren Bartley - Servant Jazz Quarters, London, 1/10/2015

  by Owen Peters

published: 23 / 10 / 2015

Gren Bartley - Servant Jazz Quarters, London, 1/10/2015


Owen Peters reviews Gren Bartley's excellent opening gig of his 'Magnificent Creatures' tour at the Servants Jazz Quarters in London

Gren Bartley, the travelling troubadour, and his band are at London’s Servants Jazz Quarters. This is the first night of their 'Magnificent Creatures Tour'. Whilst I’ve certainly seen more people at the SJQ, for a Thursday night the turnout ain't bad for someone who has little presence in the London area. Bartley is relaxed in appearance and deed. “I like this place,” he tells me as we chat in the upstairs bar, soundchecks all done. “I like this place. It has a nice feel about it.” He’s in good company, Nick Mulvey, Laura Mvula and the Staves having graced the stage of the SJQ in recent years. Bartley is a grafter at his craft. He puts in the miles, playing gigs around the UK, dipping into Northern Europe from which he has built up respect and appreciation for his performances and songwriting skills. He came to most people's attention due to the swathe of positive reviews for his latest album 'Magnificent Creatures' (2015). Since then, many of them have gone on to seek out his earlier albums, 'Songs to Scythe Back the Overgrown' (2012) and 'Winter Fires' (2013) "The latest album was really well reviewed. We received good feedback when we played live. So, I decided to set up some higher profile gigs with a mini relaunch and tour which begins tonight,” he confirms. Bartley's band comprise of Julia Disney (vocals, piano, violin), Sara Smout (vocals, cello) and Karen Jones (vocals, percussion), who all play with a smile on their faces. They look happy together. Their timing, interplay and crossover melodies compliment his stories and tales. 'Tall Wooden Walls' is a perfect opener. It punches through the evening's atmosphere, percussion and cello swooping, diving, gliding like a seagull with wind under its wings. He often reaches into personal experiences for his lyrical content. His wordplay is showcased on 'This Changes Everything' (a song about the birth of his daughter) and 'Fair Share' (about a woman diagnosed with cancer during pregnancy) is indicative to his sensitivity, respect and maturity shown to this subject matter. Bartley has the ability to quieten a venue, which he does with 'Angels Fade' and the lyric “When you're young you never believe it.” Accompanied by strings and a wonderful acapella backing, the military pace drum rolls, rolls along out into the distance. 'Undone' encapsulates Gren Bartley and his band in one song. It has an orchestral structure to its arrangement, subtle individual nuances, strings plucking, bows pushing, symbols teetering. His vocal range adds depth to the song's composition. When his closing number 'Nightingale' is finished. I hear an audience member say to her friends, “God I want to see him play that again.” It doesn't surprise me. Somewhere in the region of six/seven minutes it's a visual and cerebral challenge. Beginning with all instruments blazing, it riffs and runs for a few minutes. Then the pace changes, and Bartley becomes one man and his guitar. Gently finger picking he sings “I’m no sparrow/I’m a nightingale” Violin strings enter, followed by the cello, supported by pulsating percussion, intensity rising and rising. As the lyrics fade away, Bartley provides two minutes, which seems like ten minutes of intricate guitar work which is mesmerising at such close quarters. The SJQ set has it all: banjo, slide guitar, acapella, harmonies, harmonica, cello, violin, keyboards, percussion. It is a cacophony of style, pace and expression. Some will go with Americana, others folk, or blues searching for a musical genre. One thing is certain - Bartley is a talented artist who has found his voice, supported by a talented trio. This has been a special performance from a man whose music once heard won’t be forgotten.

Also at Servant Jazz Quarters, London

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Gren Bartley - Servant Jazz Quarters, London, 1/10/2015

Gren Bartley - Servant Jazz Quarters, London, 1/10/2015

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Interview (2015)
Gren Bartley - Interview
Gren Bartley takes time out with Owen Peters before going on stage to chat about his plans on his musical direction and performing at larger venues

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