- Charlie Mckeon
- Rachel Jean Harris
In March of this year, HALEY HEYNDERICKX delivered I Need To Start A Garden, an album of tender, delicate melodies, and finely crafted folk moments, high on emotion and steeped in personality. These are songs of someone trying to understand others, while trying to understand herself. Her haunting and haunted vocals, at once pure and understated, seem to leave the melodies almost hanging in the air, floating across the finger picked rhythms of her guitar. The appeal of her writing – and there’s a lot of appeal – is in the warmth, the subtlety and the restraint. It’s all for the sake of the song.
Our evening of well-crafted song, of rich melody and strong, intelligent lyrics begins well when RACHAEL JEAN HARRIS appears onstage. Truly gifted, with a voice capable of carrying clear and often raw soul and emotion, her melodies seem to find their natural place, almost unaided. Natural, intuitive and utterly spellbinding. There are songs of confinement, of the oppressive nature of isolation and the damage it can do. Sublimely imagined and perfectly delivered over her skilled guitar work, there’s pain in these songs, a real edge and, in some places, a welcome melancholy. Finishing with Hair Of The Moon, a song from this year which sounds older than its time, somehow more familiar than it should be, is a fine example classic songwriting. They should teach this kind of thing. Soul and depth.
CHARLIE MCKEON is a fine fellow. A ridiculously talented writer and performer, steeped in the rich tradition of English and Irish folk, of the Appalachians, and of performers such as John Martyn and Davy Graham. He’s as comfortable with traditional folk song as he is in writing about apple pie. And write about Apple Pie he does. Wonderfully. Better than anyone else, I’d say. McKeon’s guitar playing is a thing to behold, too, his fingers dancing effortlessly through the changes, up and down the neck. We’ve seen him play many times now, and we’re starting to really believe that some tangible product, an actual release of some shape or other, is well overdue.
Dwarfed by her 12-string, Heynderickx seems genuinely surprised at the sell-out crowd at 81 Renshaw as she takes to the stage. Playing solo for over an hour, she outlines her determination to return to the UK with her band, but even on the album, the accompaniment is sparse and barely used. There’s humour here, too. Goofy, kooky takes on life, such as in The Bug Collector, where she personifies “the praying mantis in the bathtub” and “the millipede on the carpet”. “The fucker’s out to gets you,” seems incongruous against such a fragile guitar line, but it certainly makes us smile.
Drinking Song, a bluesy stagger, is reminiscent of Karen Dalton’s scratched folk-blues vocal twists. As its name suggests it’s a woozy, late-night tale. The people and places, and the slow release memories of a night’s drinking. It feels apt in the tightly packed quarters of 81 Renshaw, and the crowd hang on every word. The dynamic leaps of Worth It, another album highlight, sees her moving swiftly between ethereal country-flavoured, part whispered melody, to rockier, heavier sections and back again. The melody dancing around itself, turning, twisting. It’s a song about the study of self. Introspective, critical, but hopeful.
After a stunning cover of Blues Run The Game, by the brilliant and tragic Jackson C Frank, she ends the set with a mesmerising version of Oom Sha La La, which is probably I Need To Start A Garden’s most perfect pop moment, with a catchy-as-you-like chorus prompting a singalong from the crowd. It sees her resolving to throw out the sour milk, stop worrying about the gap in her teeth, to regroup, start again, stop judging herself and, yes, to start a garden.
Haley Heynderickx is a writer and performer of real depth, who keeps a healthily ironic eye on life and the challenges and opportunities it brings. Everything in the garden should be rosy, and on this indication, it will be for some time to come.