Amy Speace concert at Acapela, Pentyrch, Cardiff

Anyone wanting an update about how Acapela is doing these days can consider this an update from the previous post years ago.

Awkward text placement…

Amy Speace is a folk/Americana American singer-songwriter from Baltimore, Maryland. National Public Radio described her voice as “velvety and achy” and compared her to Lucinda Williams. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee. A former Shakespearean actress, her music has received critical acclaim from The New York Times, NPR, The Sunday London Times, Mojo Magazine, etc. Speace’s song, Weight Of The World, was recorded by singer Judy Collins on her 2010 album Paradise.

Seen on 5 February 2020 at Acapela Studio.

As soon as you walked in there was a guy in a t-shirt acting as the doorman with a clipboard checking if you had bought tickets. There seems a lot more space in this bar area now. If every person who had a seat in the performance room came in here there would still be plenty of room to move about. You can see the kitchen area behind the bar where there’s a stone oven to cook the pizzas which they seem to specialise in.

Every time some pizza came past it looked nice enough with some fresh salad. To me though there was a particularly acute rancid smell to them. It was probably a certain sauce or something I just found an unappealing smell. I’m not sure how to describe it but as we were sat near the door it assaulted me a few times unintentionally.

There were about 20 people initially and by the time it started 50 or so had assembled in the audience. It really wasn’t that many and no one was sat upstairs (well Amy’s mother along with the guy controlling the lights and sound on his iPad but not any paying customers). Amy isn’t that well known here ‘but is on the rise’ as far as people are concerned like some other American folk singers who didn’t get larger crowds until they had come here a few times to build up word of mouth. It’s an intimate venue but indeed it wasn’t filled to capacity sadly. Presumably it is the pizzas helping to keep things ticking over.

Since the last time I was here they’ve removed more of the hard wood church pews and replaced them with stackable chairs and small tables. I suppose it’s to create a sort of ‘cafe bistro’ performance venue atmosphere. The table I was sat at was wobbly so you dare not lean on it but I’m sure the other tables were more sturdy. There are rows of chairs on the side (under the stairs), a few rows of chairs at the back and tables to the front. So if you’re unlucky and arrive later when there is unallocated seating you not only are sat with far less space for yourself but will also be watching the performers from behind people eating too. Oh and there are pillars too but that only restricts a few very specific seats and they’ve clearly tried to counter that by giving more space for the performers more floor space, to stand further forward, than previously.

No one was eating during the performance, unlike the last time I was here, but I don’t know if that was enforced by the venue or just a coincidence. When Amy came out she commented on the pizza to the effect of something like ‘surprising to find nice pizza in Cardiff’. I think most performers find it odd but all really like the acoustics of the former chapel so it’s a bit of a trade off.

We were sat downstairs by a pillar but with a good ¾ view (i.e. not at the front nor side of the performance area). There isn’t a raised platform stage area and the floor looks very scratched up now as the varnish has gradually been worn away by equipment being moved about. Someone walked by before the start smelling of toilet fragrance aerosols… or maybe it was a very cheap perfume? And it lingered… nasty. Not the venues fault but it was such a strange smell I couldn’t help but note it. The venue is perfectly fine smell wise but this perfume and the pizza were very pungent.


8.05pm the performance began.

Amy was wearing a long navy dress with small diamond patterning and white pixie boots. It reminded me of the sort of dress country singers wore in the 1970s.

She told stories between the songs about her parents’ religiousness (the father is a lapsed baptist who gave her a big, leather bound, white bible while her mother is a Catholic and there was an unspoken agreement the children would be raised Catholic) and political e.g. How she is a folk singer so her being a liberal should be a given to some degree yet some complain saying they thought she was going to do songs like a Country singer (i.e. the stereotypical Texan republican who loves their country blindly). She had her son in her fifties and named him Huckleberry as her husband teaches Southern literature and she thought it would be unique… only to discover someone else had also used that name.

Amongst the songs she performed were the following:

She forgot the lyrics to this one when she was about to perform it
She felt the need to explain a Lorna Doone is a shortbread biscuit before singing this. I mean I immediately thought of the novel when hearing the name. Americans have awkward names for their snacks don’t they?
She told a story about when she had written this after a break up and later was performing it when her new boyfriend’s family were sat in the front row. She panicked worrying they thought it would be about him. In her mind she was running a script of ‘but I won’t write a song about your son…’ in tune with the instrumental. But fortunately her loud Texan friend, from the back row of that performance, shouted ‘AND YOU DID!’ at the end of it. Anyway she married her boyfriend and had her son, named Huckleberry, when about 50 years old. Her husband teaches Southern literature and people find it odd a Yankee (northern states) person would want to name their child something like that.
She finished with this song doing it without the amp.

She performed most songs with an acoustic guitar connected to an amp but one or two she did sat at the grand piano too.

At 9.03pm there was an interval. A staff member rushed in zealously seeking empty glasses to take off tables. It got to the point he seemed to be eyeing up half filled glasses as if ready to claim them as having been abandoned if people were not sat next to them to ward him off. Out by the bar Amy’s mother was selling CDs of three of her albums, t-shirts and apparently one album on vinyl. Amy would sign them too. About 10 or so minutes later the second half began suddenly signaled by the lights suddenly being turned off again.

While performing she forgot the lyrics to a few of her songs so a friend had to look them up for her. It was fortunately made more charming rather than awkward. Earlier she had joked at other performances she had had to do that too.

After she remembered and performed the first forgotten song a guy shouted “got there in the end” which the classic sardonic Welsh sense of humour. It’s not meant in a bad spirit but I imagine it so easily could be misread as such if people are not familiar with it… and let’s face it when you have visiting foreign artists I do often wonder if it gives a bad impression and if it’s affected the chance of people coming back again. However Amy mentioned how polite British audiences are as American ones have to be made to shut up and often will throw things at the performers. British audiences chuckle while American audience guffaw it seems. Probably it makes it easier to read the tone of the room compared to more reserved audiences.

She had gone up Snowden and it was the first time her parents were touring the UK. She seemed hung up, like all visiting American artists, on the whole ‘divided nation’ aspect of America at the moment regarding Trump and said Britain probably is too now due to Brexit. She joked politicians need to get better hair and some exercise in reference to Trump and Boris Johnson.

At 22:25 the concert ended after she said she would do a false ‘walk off and encore’ by turning away a few seconds rather than walk out the room. She did one of the last songs acoustically without her guitar plugged in. Oddly it might have been better to do that more in this venue but I guess everyone is used to instruments being amplified these days that just having the instrument sounds less ‘authentic’ somehow…

It was very enjoyable. The stories actually felt personal rather than just a script she rattles off to every audience. It’s a bit concerning she forgot the lyrics to her own songs though. But overall it was very enjoyable. I recommend seeing her if you’ve the chance though it is one of the few occasions where I’ve seen a performer forget their own lyrics which in a less seasoned act would be criticised as being unprofessional.

Parking is still the biggest issue the venue faces really even with it’s relatively small capacity. Park on the road side and if you can’t then you’ll have to park further down or in a residential space. There are no real alternatives to be honest but that’s the cost of it being in a community’s former chapel.

P.S. Here are some names of other acts coming here soon if you want to look them up… The Magpies / Daisy Chapman / Maz o’connor / Emily Mae Winters / Mr Tea and the Minions / Morganway.

London Welsh by Idris Davies

We have scratched our names in the London dust,

Sung sometimes like the Jews of Babylon

Under the dusty trees of Hyde Park Corner,

Almost believing in a Jesus of Cardigan

Or a Moses on the mountains of Merioneth;

We have dreamed by the Thames of Towy and Dee,

And whistled in dairy shops in the morning,

Whistled of Harlech and Aberdovey.

We have grown sentimental in London

Over things that we smiled at in Wales.

Sometimes in Woolwich we have seen the mining valleys

More beautiful than we ever saw them with our eyes.

We have carried our accents into Westminster

As soldiers carry rifles into the wars;

We have carried our idioms into Piccadilly,

Food for the critics on Saturday night.

We have played dominoes in Lambeth with Alfred the Great,

And lifted a glass with Henry VIII

In the tavern under the railway bridge

On Friday nights in winter;

And we have argued with Chaucer down the Old Kent Road

On the englynion of the Eisteddfod.

We have also shivered by the Thames in the night

And know that the frost has no racial distinctions.

 

by Idris Davies

Overheard Conversation: A Man With A Weird Routine

A man walks into the room looking for help with something. He leaves without anything being said save that there can be no help for him here. Then, without missing a beat, one person turns to another and a conversation begins about the departed man.

Mademoiselle Blancmange: “You know that guy?”
An intruding Yorkshire man: “I’ve seen him about. Why?”
Mademoiselle Blancmange: “He’s weird.”
An intruding Yorkshire man: “Is he?”
Mademoiselle Blancmange: “Every day, at exactly 12 o’ clock he has his lunch. He’s really weird. He always eats at the exact same time every day no matter what.”

She continues this way until it is revealed a few moments later that the man has diabetes and has to eat at regular intervals during the day to avoid the inevitable repercussions.

Apparently this strict routine alone was enough to consider him ‘weird’ in her eyes. I then reflect does this make people with any kind of maintained routine strange? Do we not all have a morning routine at the very least? It is no irony that these same people on a later day complain of someone ‘stinking’ implying that a regular bathing had been missed for whatever reason thus routine is both ‘weird’ but a necessary evil to them then I assume. The mindset of the lazy armchair critic who has the answers but takes no action to better the world they find themselves in.

Certainly, I believe we can all agree someone with OCD (Obsessive compulsive disorder) has developed a routine of actions which interfere with their lives, and there is no questioning this. However at what point does a routine become ‘weird’? Using the toilet regularly? Are regular bowel movements therefore ‘weird’ – certainly I imagine there any number of ill or elderly people who would envy such a display of routine? I remember reading in Primo Levi’s ‘If This Is Man’ that one WW2 prison camp inmate who could evacuate his bowels on command was the envy of all the others there it was such an extrodinary skill. Is having a regular job ‘weird’ when it provides a reliable source of income? What would be achieved without routine when it can be put off until tomorrow?

Maybe we should look at what that word ‘weird’ means then:

Weird (wɪəd/): adjective weird; comparative adjective: weirder; superlative adjective: weirdest
1. Suggesting something supernatural; unearthly.
synonyms: uncanny, eerie, unnatural, preternatural, supernatural, unearthly, other-worldly, unreal, ghostly, mysterious, mystifying, strange, abnormal, unusual; eldritch;
Informal: creepy, spooky, freaky;
Antonyms: normal, ordinary
Informal: very strange; bizarre.
synonyms: bizarre, offbeat, quirky, outlandish, eccentric, unconventional, unorthodox, idiosyncratic, surreal, crazy, absurd, grotesque, peculiar, odd, curious, strange, queer, cranky, freakish, insane, zany, madcap, off-centre, far out, alternative; outré;
Informal: wacky, freaky, way-out, rum;
Informal: wacko, off the wall, in left field, bizarro
Antonyms: conventional
2. Archaic: connected with fate.

So we come to the following conclusions:

  • Not normal – Well he had diabetes not that it was anyone else’s business. Diabetes is more common than it should be but he shouldn’t be judged for that.
  • Connected to a person’s destiny – Yes I can imagine the critical person developing diabetes. That person is far too judgemental of others. As it says in the Bible in Matthew 7:3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” The same lesson exists in many other forms too in other places. Put simply: Don’t criticise others for their minor failings when you yourself have far more obvious ones.

People are people. Some are cruel. Some are odd. Some just want to live a life without needless cruelty. Sadly some people thrive on cruelty when they know there will be no repercussions. There are bad people in the world but there are also good people. You just have to find the good ones and ignore the bad ones who only seek harm to others through whatever means they have to hand. It is the only way they themselves can feel ‘normal’ in whatever way they believe that is achieved.

The world is a better place for people with weird routines. Nothing would get done without routines and everything would be the same without the ‘weird’ ones contributing towards a more diverse world.


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