Carol Hodge and Birds & Beasts – 30 October 2021, Wainsgate Chapel, Hebden Bridge

Being (in probability), the most remote venue we have been to, outside of a music festival, we find the Wainsgate Chapel on the outskirts of Hebden Bridge really hits us in the face with it’s beautiful setting and stunning rural Yorkshire views. It is also our first post lockdown music gig in person (and our two year old daughter’s first ever gig) so there are equal parts of nervous expectation and blessed relief all round to seeing live music again. Some infant distractions aside, we are able to witness two beautifully performed 45 minute sets that blended into the old wooden eaves of the chapel in a delightful interplay of new and old.

This joyous embrace of old and new is witnessed in the first act. Carol Hodge sings and walks down from the church pulpit like navigating a smoke-filled staircase in a classy jazz bar. Known as the seven fingered songwriter, Carol Hodges plays a set with a voice and songs full of passion and delightful inner turmoil. Performing a set of songs that resonate with the theme of moving on from difficult situations, we find these insights are a perfect match for the beautiful, honest and from the heart lyrics. A singer-songwriter with several accolades, she has in recent months released her third album, “The Crippling Space Between”. 

Stand out numbers include,  “Fallibility”, a great addition to the set as one of those painfully honest Dear John letters in song form. Slightly less thrashing than the recorded version, it seeps an almost early 90s girl group earnestness (before it got swallowed up by “girl power”) that clatters with the sounds of soft metal and heavy rock. Hodge also impresses with, “Along for the Ride”, the wistful and optimistic piano-led track that uses cool pitch changes and chords that navigate a topic that weave between anger and acceptance like a loom weaving a Queen Band tea-towel. Distinctly musical and mildly dramatic, it would not be out of place in a stage musical involving motor-bikes and a rite of passage between being young and care-free (yeah!) to  a suburban life with lots of responsibilities (boo!).

Our favourite number that appears is “Curtain to Fall” which is an ode to everyone involved with the music industry whose work was affected by the lockdown. Naturally topical at present, it reminds us that nothing, not even Covid, can stop the music industry. Dwelling in the psychological gap left by musicians when their performance space is pulled from them; this could be a powerful addition to any musician’s playlist in their first post-lockdown gigs. With the hallmarks of that signature singer-songwriter number, it’s sadness and depth of conviction is a lens on this time and space; and however sad it makes us feel, we love it.

After the second break, we then return with the Birds & Beasts.

We will confess to already being massive fans of Birds & Beasts.  We first saw them perform whilst I was pregnant with my daughter, at another famous Hebden Bridge venue, so I am  excited for this follow up act. For those not in the know, “Birds and Beasts” are a Huddersfield-based folk-rock duo who write with animals in mind. The songs go beyond just animal inspiration though; they are interesting in that they are incredibly close to the lives of the beasts around and often the songs hold a mirror up between these and the human lives that are listening.

Here at Hebden Bridge they harken to the darker corners of the church with their presence. Anna and Leo’s set focuses on their more acoustic first album rather than the current hot property that is their second album “Kozmik Disko” that launched the previous weekend. It all works well.

The Birds and Beasts entertain with a collection of songs that brim over with that joyful 60s and 70s Summer vibe where the folk sounds call to the trees, the beaches and those vibrant places in the sun. There is a lot to like here including “Time Stands Still”, a song about a murder of crows lamenting the death of an elder. It is a song guaranteed to move anyone who has recently lost a loved one, it certainly hit a personal, moving chord with ourselves. The song features Anna beautifully playing a 22 string Irish harp with a chilling melancholy (which sadly had to be put away afterwards due to the cold temperature) . 

There are some other dreamlike numbers here such as “I May Fly”, a song not from their albums. It is a short, sweet and punchy song about what the mayfly can achieve in the small lifespan that it has. Like their other songs, this is an apt metaphor to our human lives and our own potential. It was so short that it made Blur’s Song 2 feel like a Greek epic in length. The song culminated in some excellent guitar playing by Leo. 

 “Medusa”  with it’s short, upbeat and catchy lines gives a hint of their new material to come (is it too early to get excited for a third album?); and “In The End” is an ode to being able to be with your loved ones again in the near future. In subject, it is about red deers in Ann’s homeland of Germany with the feeling that it equally applies to both the experiences of families divided by the Berlin wall, and the recent Covid lockdown that inspired it. It is performed with uplifting passion and a bright hope for the future, like many of their songs.

Leaving the gig feeling uplifted by a beautiful couple of hours of live music to get us through the drive home, we can’t wait to return to the venue for its next set of gigs in the new year. After all, in Carol Hodge’s words, “we will never be ready for the curtain to fall.”

For more information about Carol Hodge see her webpage here, and read about Birds & Beasts here.

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