Published on November 4th, 2014 | by Andy Barnes0
Ange Hardy / Steve Pledger – Curry Rivel Village Hall – 29/10/14
The Sonic Bandwagon strap line, ‘Underground Music Uncovered’ has never been more apt as I drive through the fog shrouded Somerset countryside in full Autumnal darkness, searching out the village hall in rural Curry Rivel. My quest, Ange Hardy and Steve Pledger’s ‘Just Passing Through’ tour , which circumnavigates the South Western County throughout October and November. A closed road and a slow moving breakdown truck try to thwart my journey, although I arrive with seconds to spare before the evening begins. I must admit, my initial focus had been Ange, with both myself and fellow Sonic Bandwagon presenter Mike Ainscoe having featured tracks on the show from her latest album, ‘The Lament of the Black Sheep,’ receiving an exceptional reception since release in folk circles.
Initially though, it’s Steve Pledger who appears in front of the black backdrop for the first of two half hourish sets, flanked by Ange Hardy banners extolling the virtues of her latest album and the previous release, ‘Barefoot Folk.’ Perhaps Steve needs to focus on a marketing budget for future shows……
But marketing isn’t everything, and Pledger immediately endears himself to a modest, although appreciative crowd with his beautifully observed lyrics and deft guitar work, accompanied by in the main, jovial and self-effacing banter. The quality of song writing, apparent throughout the set, effortlessly expresses a range of emotions, readily producing heart wrenching and tear inducing aspects through new songs such as ‘Friends and Rivals’, which deals with parental absence, before touching the edges of protest, bastardising the title of Woody Guthries ‘This Land is Your Land’ during his second appearance, proclaiming ‘This Land is Pound Land.’ I don’t enjoy comparing Pledger with Frank Turner, but it’s almost impossible not to, although with far more depth and feeling. A Turner for the common man perhaps!
Steve describes himself as a hippy with a follicle problem, and while his lack of cranial coverage may preclude him appearance wise, his ideas and beliefs pitch him in the midst of such an association. ‘Inconvenient and Beautiful’, from the’14 Good Intentions’ album, with the message of nature’s ability to usurp technical advances is a perfect example. However, it’s when Pledger lays himself emotively bare that he’s at his utmost best. A story he tells before ‘Love, Bess,’ outlines an ability to observe life from the outside, having some twenty five years ago seen an in memorial piece of writing in a newspaper he cut out and has kept in his wallet , so touched by the words written. More recently, playing around with a piece of music and looking for words as accompaniment, he based the lyrics on those from the paper, producing a song of breath taking beauty which the story behind makes even more powerful.
One of the joys of live music is discovering new artists, and the adage, ‘always turn up early to gigs’ has never been more relevant. Steve Pledger is a blissful find.
If Steve Pledger wears his heart readily on his sleeve, Ange Hardy’s shines like a neon light from the middle of her forehead. This, a young woman who has experienced life at the rough end including living homeless on the streets of Dublin and close personal loss, literally too much to relate here, although I would urge you visit http://www.angehardy.com/about-ange-hardy which allows an insight into not only her life, but the context around which much of her music revolves. Ange hopes her songs and the life stories inspire hope in others who may be experiencing their own trials and tribulations, for which there’s every possibility when told in such a captivating manner.
She opens proceedings with a haunting A Capella version of the traditional Irish folk song, ‘She Moves Through the Fair,’ projecting an exquisite purity of vocal around the silent room. The only additional sound is that of the church bell tolling in the miasma enveloped streets.
Although the majority of Ange’s sets involve deeply personal and poignant songs taken from both ‘The Lament of the Black Sheep’ and ‘Barefoot Folk’ albums, there are also injections of humour. The playful ‘Crafty Father John’ extolls the virtues of a Priest who keeps a close eye on Facebook pages to ensure parishioners are truly confessing their sins, rather than suggesting their worst depravity of the week amounts to purchasing non Fair Trade coffee. We are also introduced to Mr Miyagi, a loop machine, used to provide vocal harmonies throughout. Perhaps the constant click as Mr Miyagi waxes on and off is slightly less than harmonious in the surroundings, but that’s probably just me splitting hairs over an otherwise exquisitely delivered performance. The highlight, ‘Heaven Waits’, is an elegy to a brother sadly deceased, outlining both the intensely delicate nature of her lyricism in conjunction with melodic allure.
While significant contrasts between Ange Hardy and Steve Pledger are readily apparent throughout, it closes with both entwining their vocals harmoniously together. This emphasises compatibility and familiarity as both artists and friends, with a final tongue in cheek reference to the purchasing of CD’s over at the merch table bringing a light hearted ending to a profoundly moving live music experience.
I’d urge anyone with even a passing interest in folk and acoustic music to venture out for the ‘Just Passing Through,’ tour, still numerous opportunities around Somerset over the coming weeks.