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.

Barb Jungr at St Donats Art Centre

Held at St Donats Art Centre on 10th May 2015 – http://www.stdonats.com/

Barb Jungr accompanied by Simon Morris on the Piano – http://www.barbjungr.com/

Barb Jungr (born 9 May 1954) is an English singer-songwriter, composer and writer, of Czech and German parentage. She is known as a chansonnière, or singer of chansons—in the sense of classic, lyric-driven French songs; in the broader sense of European songs in the cabaret style; and in the even broader sense of a diverse range of songs interpreted in this style. She has become best known for her work with, or “interpretations” of, the songs of Bob Dylan. A song-stylist incorporating jazz and blues, her approach often includes radical re-readings of known writers as well as original material.

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The performance was held at St Donats Art Centre, formerly Tithe Barn of the historical St. Donat’s Castle, within the modern glass walled bar area of the art centre on a small stage, looking out towards the shoreline. I had assumed it was going to be in the barn stage area but the slowly dying light of day outside was a very pleasant backdrop to any performance and the house lights increased in accordance without being intrusive. They also lit one or two tea light candles on some tables but not all. It didn’t really add anything when you have the sunset in the background.

The seating was cabaret style so it was 4 chairs around each table. Somehow, though we booked the tickets all together, they had 2 people on one table and another on a separate table. In fact the couple who walked in after us forced us off the table we were sat at! Poor seating arrangement as it wasn’t a sold out performance and there were 4 or 5 tables left empty at the back. The barn would have been far more appropriate for it as it and has cabaret seating too at other performances I have attended here.

At the bar they said they didn’t have orange juice and offered an orange tango instead! But I had a tea so that’s beside the point…

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Disabled access: Although there is an art gallery on a higher floor there is easily available access for all events for anyone using wheelchairs or otherwise unable to use stairs. Both the bar area and the barn are ground floor so there should be no difficulty of access. Also there was a guy sat on one of the front tables with, I believe, autism who got concerned as he and the pianist as they were both named Simon. At one point he called out saying “My name’s Simon and you are Simon. But I am Simon… Hello.” Barb dealt with him well by making a comment on how there are so many people in the world and we can share names with others which is wonderful. So That was very skilfully dealt with by her I felt and helped him feel included in proceedings without there being a delay in the performance, and most importantly, him becoming worried and upset. Three times he had to go away with his aunt/grandmother but it didn’t disrupt proceedings. I felt a little sad for him although I think he was enjoying as he moved his hand in time with the music and Barb (and of course Simon the piano player) said hello thus dispelling what could have been a bit of a tense moment for them as an unexpected disruption. Professionalism like that should be commended.

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Review: I went in blind as I was told it was Cohen/Dylan songs and that was all I knew. The medleys were okay but due to her singing style, where she put emphasis in odd places and gesticulated in a very awkward way, it was really off putting. If she had been accompanied by more than just Simon on the piano I think it would have worked far better than what was the final performance. Also she seemed overly casually dressed and considering the tickets were £15 I would expect the performer to not look like they just stepped off the field from Glastonbury. Bitchy but the ticket price was too high for what we got from the venue and performance. I actually felt that if this were in a theatre or there were more people I would have left during the intermission – which at least one of the tables towards the front actually did. I didn’t like the re-imagining of ‘First We Take Manhattan’ which I have always really liked. They did a slower version of it, and in concept I have always thought that doing the song that way would be very effective (though the point of the song is that instrumentally it’s meant to be very upbeat, with a fast tempo, contrasting with the lyrics’ darker tone) but somehow it just didn’t ‘click’ with me… The way they did it though it was like karaoke… This is very rare for me to totally dislike an event but I cannot deny that sadly I did not enjoy and it was not based solely on not liking Barb’s singing but the overall experience as noted above with the seating and service at the bar. Simon was good in accompanying Barb but as mentioned previously there is only so much you can do as the sole instrumental accompaniment. It just wasn’t my thing on the night and apart from two students, who snuck onto a back table during the second half, I was the youngest there by 25 years easily. I’m sure Barb is far better in the right venue with the right accompaniment so this really felt like it was ‘local gig’ level not a professional.

It’s a very nice venue and doesn’t get much support. Although they consider themselves rural they do get many good acts there but really don’t seem to be able to penetrate the market due to bigger and more central venues drowning them out though you will find similar acts passing through. From the posters I saw signed on the walls they do have acts I would really like to see e.g. the Webb Sisters. I chalk it up as one bad experience and will be checking their site out again for future events. I have been here before and gone in the barn stage area just off the entrance and certainly feel Barb would have done better in there as it is more intimate and suitable for an act like hers compared to the quite large bar area looking out on the shoreline which seems more suited for a more ‘get up and dance’ friendly band performance.

Acapela Studio, Pentyrch, Cardiff: Concert Reviews

Over the past few months I have gone to Acapela studios to see some musical talent but kept putting off posting the reviews. Therefore what you read below was the reaction at the time immediately after the event. So this could be considered as an overview of the venue via the 3 short reviews of concerts I went to there.

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  • Shan Cothi featuring the Nidum Ensemble & Guests 26/02/2015
  • Catrin Finch’s Launch of her Album ‘Waves’ 19/03/2015
  • Frank Hennessy – Welsh Folk Singer   17/04/2015

Acapela-Church-pentyrch

The performances were all held at Pentyrch’s Acapela Studios: a converted Welsh chapel which she bought with her husband Hywel Wigley in 2005. They renovated it into a recording studio and music venue due to the acoustics it offered.

http://www.acapela.co.uk/

Capel Horeb, Heol Y Pentre, Pentyrch, Cardiff CF15 9QD

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It’s an excellent venue acoustically and there are many interesting, eclectic, acts performing there throughout the year and it deserves all the support it can get as the ticket prices are very reasonable, if not cheap, in comparison with many other local venues considering the extremely high quality of acts it attracts.

My only real criticism is that if they are going to have a bar they need to invest in a fridge or some cooling device as having room temperature drinks, charged at the premium price you expect from larger venues, seems unfair to the patrons supporting it. Parking in the area may be awkward the first time you attend an event so make sure to arrive a bit early in case you have to park a bit further away than desired due to the location being in a residential area.

[Edit: 02/02/2018: I have been back to see a few more events since these reviews and they had a restructure of the bar area shortly afterwards so it has all the facilities you would expect of a performance venue including a proper bar area, toilets and it has, on most occassions, been well heated and there is padded seating as long as you are amongst the first to enter the chapel room for a performance as seating is not assigned by ticket.]

[Edit: 20/02/2018: Further to the above I attended a concert by Vonda Shepard and apparently now they’ve changed the bar area into a food service area. There are a number of tables in the studio/chapel part. People were eating before and during the concert which I found odd. At the start of the second half the people sat in front of me sat were eating pizza out of pizza delivery boxes sat upstairs. I suppose that’s what Acapela has had to do to survive but it does bring into question the number of seats lost by bringing the tables in and if they’ve decided to deprioritise the recording studio aspects and such. It’s a shame as it makes it all a bit ‘dinner theatre’ but that’s how things are going now I suppose so they can’t be blamed if that’s what keeps them afloat. Vonda was excellent anyway and its a very intimate venue.]


Shan Cothi featuring the Nidum Ensemble & Guests
26/02/2015

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A fun, light hearted, evening and great atmosphere with a good audience turn out.

Performing were: Shan Cothi (Classical singer and host of Bore Cothi on Radio Cymru), Wynne Evans (The Go Compare Tenor), Rebecca Evans (Opera Diva – Not Wynne’s wife though the joke about it), Catrin Finch (Official Harpist to the Prince of Wales from 2000 to 2004) and the 4 person string quartet of the (12 person strong) Nidum Ensemble.

Wynne mocked Shan, Rebecca and Catrin in a song he made up. Mostly the evening was a preview of Shan’s new album, a composition from Katrin’s new album and, amongst other pieces, 4 compositions by Ennio Morricone.

‘Big Dai’ Watkins, a lyricist, sat in front of me and kept turning around telling me ‘this is a good one’ and had one of those distinctly Welsh senses of humour saying at the start of the second half ‘How you liking the concert so far? Been to worse…’ It was nice to meet people like that there due to the really informal, friendly, atmosphere.

When singing they would be stood up on the pulpit while the musicians were on the floor beneath it. Along with the string quartet were a piano and harp (maybe also another cello I wasn’t sure from where I was sat on the evening).

The crowd was a wide mix of age ranges though seemed to be composed of many familiar with the musical arts scene in Wales. There was a boisterous energy amongst the audience and it really contributed to what were already energetic performances.

Interior wise: Floor boards are bare. I can see where the plaster has shrunk away from the skirting rail. The pews are still all there and more seating upstairs in the balcony area similar to the church in St Fagan. A very cosy atmosphere where it seemed everyone knew each other. There is a very modern looking bar in the vestry which seemed out of keeping with the retained aesthetic of the chapel room itself. Drinks sat in their bottles on the bar. No ice in the drinks. I hate room temperature drinks especially if you charge the going ‘musical performance venue’ rate for them.


Catrin Finch’s Launch of her ‘Waves’ Album
19/03/2015

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There was a composer on before Catrin who I think wasn’t very experienced in giving performances as he tripped up when performing his own compositions a few times unfortunately. Sadly I forgot his name but it was hopefully a positive experience for him and did contribute to setting the tone for Catrin later on.

There was a good turnout. There were some cushions available for those who needed them as the chapel pews could get uncomfortable after a while. There is a small step that has some warning tape on it but plenty still stumbled on it due to the space the raised platform took up. There were 4 reserved pews on the left side in front of me but I don’t know if VIPs actually attended as they seemed to remove the reserved signs a few minutes before the start so people who had been milling around looking for seats could actually sit down. It is quite cold when you first arrive but after a while, due to the body heat of the assembled audience and lighting, it will be very warm. They film and photograph all the performances but I don’t know where they use the recordings. The drinks at the bar are expensive and served at room temperature as they seem to have no chiller or ice box on the premises…

After an intermission Catrin took to the stage with a string quartet (plus a double bassist who had to be sat on ground level behind the raised stage) with a hipster DJ sound engineer wearing a fedora with full ginger beard up on the pulpit using an Apple mac.

She played a number of songs from her new album Waves (about to be released), a song in dedication to the events of Capel Celyn (a community was forced from their homes so their valley could be flooded in order to provide water for Liverpool in England http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capel_Celyn) and the song she composed for Water Aid. At one point in the middle of the concert she stopped and said she was now going to play Debussey’s Clair De Lune as it was her favourite. It seemed out of keeping with the other more experimental music.

It was enjoyable but also quite austere as Catrin herself appears to be during performances – however that seems to be the established tone for many classical concerts as the performers need to focus and traditionally they have always been far more formal than other events which sadly may deter some from attending due to the stigma it is for the elite of society. The songs are very atmospheric but not immediately memorable to my ear. It may be a case I just need to hear them a few more times to be more familiar with them as, unlike much of popular music, it is not rely upon a clear ‘hook’ to maintain your memory of them later as an earworm. I will revisit the music in future as there was definitely something there in the composition that makes me want to hear them again. It’s a good venue for bands, etc, but the bar area needs to be sorted out if they want to host more events in future. As the chapel is in a residential area you need to turn up quite early to find anywhere to park nearby.

The crowd was composed of the sort you would expect at a classical concert so there was a good, respectful, tone all round and I enjoyed the concert thoroughly.


Frank Hennessy – Welsh Folk Singer
17/04/2015

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Frank Hennessy – Guitar. a Welsh folk singer and BBC Wales radio presenter.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Hennessy

Accompanied by:
Iolo Jones- Violinist
Dave Burns – Mandolin

He does a mix of Celtic folk music and a few of his own compositions which are Cardiff-centric including ‘Cardiff born, Cardiff bred’. By his own admission you will enjoy it more if you are drunk and he encouraged everyone to get as drunk as they could during the interval as they would enjoy it more then. However he was saying this to the Pentyrch crowd and freely admitted they were not his usual crowd. Catrin Finch was there with one of her young daughters who fell asleep in her mother’s arms during the second half having played with one of the folding cushions for a while. It reminded me of when I was little and had to keep myself physically stimulated during live performances that ran for, what seems an eternity to a young child, about an hour per part of the performance.

It was good if you were drunk and had a boisterous crowd. It’s good if you like classical ballad of troubadours. There was a bit too much telling of bad jokes and ‘where I got this song from’ between songs for me but that is part of the experience as the whole style of folk singer performances. It wasn’t my kind of thing ultimately but then I had an ear ache which may have detracted from the experience at no fault to the performers.

It was a clearly much older crowd than the other events thoguh still very enthusiastic to sing, clap or stamp along when asked. I would say if you know who Max Boyce is and like his stuff then you will like Frank Hennessy too.


As an extra you will see Wynne Evans and Frank Hennessy during this video singing Calon Lan.

… my ear ache is clearing up not that it matters. It is one of the few things where I fully agree with young children’s overt reaction to it unlike getting a bump or scraping a knee it really is debilitating when it is at its harshest point.