I walked into Studio 2 to watch Vanessa Murray launch her debut EP It’s About Time with no preconceptions of what to expect. All I had to go on was that she was a singer/songwriter, and when all that appears to mean is that she writes her own music it’s not much to go on. So I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered a musician who is dedicated, and genuinely enjoys what she does.
I walked in just as Katy Alex finished her set. A good choice for the opener as her jazzy, soft music set the scene for what was to come. The next two acts, Dominic Dunn and Shannon Bamford, set the bar high vocally. Dominic Dunn dominating the stage with his powerful voice ensuring we were listening. Shannon Bamford had an especially impressive vocal range, hitting the high notes and providing a fresh contrast to Dominic.
By the time it was Vanessa’s turn there were many expectant people in the crowd. Looking around it felt like many of the people in the audience had been supporting her from the start and this was somewhat of a celebration for them to see Vanessa both performing, and perhaps more importantly releasing, her music. She kicked off with the second song from her new EP I Don’t Wanna Lose You Like This and is immediately in control of the audience and the band.
It surprised me that this was the first time she had performed on stage with a backing band as she seemed to gel so well with them. Having a band dramatically increased the possibilities of what she could do with her music and she used this to her advantage well by varying the texture of each song. In Fire that Burns Within she uses the full band to burst into life but then on Worlds Apart and Do You Remember Me strips it right back to just voice and guitar on the former and just piano and vocal on the latter.
Throughout the gig Vanessa conveyed the feeling of enjoying being on stage and it being a genuine performance that wasn’t choreographed at all, she was just herself. This could be her something that many other acts don’t have, it enables the audience to empathise and ends up feeling like everyone has played a part in the performance. Then for the first time in a long time I witnessed a musician express genuine surprise at the calls for an encore, “Don’t worry I’ll do a solo one” she joked with the band who were as surprised as her.
The genre of “singer/songwriter” is so diverse that musicians are often pigeon-holed into it. Vanessa managed to break the shackles, however, and proved that done right, beautiful music can be produced using just a guitar and voice.
Words: Chris Cannell