A video from last Saturday’s SMILE in the Square. Featuring clips of performances by Kathryn Anderson, Charissa, Oliver, Alice Avenue, Simon Says, Made By Giants, Fly Frankie Fly & Cardinals.
Whilst walking through the city on the way to the show, it was hard to envisage how the forthcoming night was going to pan out. Talk of tonights event wasn’t so much about the artists playing, but more the unusual setting of the Bargate Gallery, an old castle situated on the high street formerly part of the original city wall. It was down to the artists to turn this on its head and become the talking points of the night.
It was a cold, dark evening and the main performance room gave off a cavernous and bleak feel early on. As the first act of the night, Kathryn Anderson, picked up her acoustic there was no more than five or six people stood around the walls of the room. Kathryn gave off an apprehensive vibe at the start of her performance and appeared nervous. However, as she got into her stride, a strong, sweet voice emerged which warmed up a cold atmosphere. The audience numbers moved from disappointing to promising as Kathryn pulled off a great cover of country classic ‘Stand By Your Man’. She really got into her stride at this point and after her last song, applause from the eight people watching reverberated around the room to a nice effect. Upon meeting Kathryn after her set we learned of her influences which included a mixture of old and modern country music.
The second act of the night was the promising Sean McGowan, an artist who is already booked for six festivals this summer including Red Fest and Blissfields. The ever increasing audience was jolted awake during the opening chords of Sean’s first song and this vibe remained throughout. His musical influences stem from acts such as The King Blues and in some places Frank Turner, but his personal influences take more of a front seat in the minds of everyone in the room as he sings about love, life, growing up and politically charged motives. His stage presence is such that it’s hard to escape from his world, it is clear he feels for every lyric he sings. Sean really set the bar for the rest of the evening, a set of great songs, each carrying something which can be related to by anyone old or young. Sean finished to a warm reception, there was something strange about staging this event in an old castle, but it was starting to make sense after this performance.
Third to the Bargate stage was the young Lewis Watson. He had a tough slot to fill after Sean’s performance but seemed confident in a quiet sort of way. Lewis begins with a cover of the ‘fashionable’ Skinny Love. He sets the tone by stepping out from behind the microphone straight away and uses the acoustics of the room to create a more personal atmosphere and succeeds in removing the barrier between performer and audience. There is an air of appreciation for Lewis as he strolls through the first few songs almost effortlessly, a soft voice which compliments his guitar playing well. Despite this, after a while, his songs about love and life become slightly monotonous, and this leaves the audience praying for a wake up call. Luckily, the penultimate song of his set was a unique and well arranged cover of Kids by MGMT, which brought his performance back to life. Lewis Watson came and went, leaving a relaxed environment but nothing more, this setting the night up well for headliners Wise Children.
As the night draws on tonight’s headliners Wise Children walk out to an audience of high expectations. A piano was introduced which added a different musical level to what was previously seen, creating a chilling and almost unnerving sound which strangely suited the duo’s on stage presence. Although the sound of the band complimented the surroundings we found ourselves in, they could have easily filled a larger space, with a larger audience. Wise Children’s front man chats to the crowd between songs, he doesn’t seem comfortable but this could well be part of the act, which was worthy of the headline slot tonight. The great thing is, their set didn’t drag and before long they announce their penultimate song, Bed On A Ward which is one of the highlights of their set - this is a true story about somebody spending their last days in a hospital ward as opposed to with friends and family; an upbeat guitar lick is crushed by minor piano dissonance which reflects the song meaning well. Wise Children finished with their most upbeat song which served as a surprise after a mellow set, which ended the night on a high note.
This show tested the artists ability to perform in an intimate situation, and they all passed the test. Although Wise Children were worthy of their headline slot, our chosen pick of the night was Sean McGowan. Hats off to the Smile Fringe for pushing the boundaries with this show, it was however slightly let down by the turn out, a larger attendance would have made a good show into an awesome one.