Red Sky July
By Lesley Hastings
It has become a tradition in recent years for the trio Red Sky July to treat their ever-growing fan base to an intimate Christmas show at Camden’s Green Note, and this year was no exception with the 80 or so tickets being snapped up within hours of the gig’s announcement.
With their truly beautiful festive offering “Save Christmas Day For Me” being released on the same day ( you can listen to it and find out more about the group here and a new album on the way in early 2016 ( release date of March 25th ) I was of course looking forwards to hearing some of my favourite songs from this threesome but excited at the prospect of them performing some of their new material too.
For those of you unfamiliar with the venue, it really is a gem and sadly there a few such places ( that I know of! ) where you can still see top calibre professional musicians in a relaxed surrounding and where the sound quality is always excellent and prices very reasonable. Vegetarian snack food is available ( a stripped back version of the full menu they used to offer),and the staff are always friendly and helpful. It is a bit of a scramble for seats when the doors open at around 7pm but because of its size you will get a good view of the small corner stage wherever you end up.
Talking to some of the audience before the music started, many it seemed were seasoned RSJ followers but others had only recently discovered them through their tour earlier this year with Beth Nielson Chapman, another great artist with whom they have recently written several songs.
The stage set with instruments, mics and twinkling fairy lights, the three took to the stage ( no support act this time round) and as always immediately put everyone at ease with their relaxed manner, explaining that we were indeed going to hear some of their new compositions which they would be playing live for the first time (” you won’t know if we go wrong! “Shelly rightly said! ) before introducing what she said was their favourite from their next album, ” Strathconan”. With its celtic lilt, a gorgeous guitar break from Ally and beautiful acapella ending it sounded fine to me although Shelly joked that they had ” cocked it up” ( then swiftly apologised for her language as Father John was in the audience, the priest who had given Ally his last rights after he suffered a major brain aneurysm a few years ago! ) As usual, it was Shelly doing most of the talking throughout the set ( she is very entertaining!) interspersed with a few comments from Charity whilst Ally concentrated on playing lead guitar ( with both amazing guitar solos and atmospheric slide playing ) to compliment Charity’s rhythm guitar/fiddle playing and Shelly’s electric mandolin/percussion.
Although we were told that they had very little time to rehearse for the evening’s performance ( all have other musical projects on the go, and Charity has young twins to run around after!) as usual they seemed very much at home on stage and the girls’ sublime trademark harmonies throughout were spot on. There was a good combination of songs from the group’s first two albums ( their second release, “Shadowbirds” , received particularly favourable reviews) which got many of us singing along, a few covers, my favourite of which was an emotional rendition of the Dixie Chick’s ” Travellin’ Soldier” which you can check out here https://youtu.be/5SaUDX4JIXY, and several of their newbies including of course the Christmas song mentioned earlier. The girls were frantically practicing this one in the interval……it’s really tough, Shelly told me …….and before they performed it they admitted they were ” flying by the seats of our pants” but of course it sounded fine despite Charity describing it as a “bit of Christmas fudge”, they are such perfectionists! Talking of new songs, those who saw RSJ at one of the several Summer festivals they played would already have heard ” Walking Country Song” , about divvying up your country CD collection when a relationship ends and with its clever lyrics ( such as ” you can have Crazy , yes you deserve Crazy every time” ) this went down very well with the Green Note crowd, possibly striking a few chords ( no pun intended!). Apparently the first one from the new album to listen out for (hopefully!) on a radio near you and which will be released in the New Year to promote the album will be ” In Black” , a really lovely but sad break-up ballad (” It doesn’t matter how we got here, but here we are……I don’t say what you want, I don’t make you smile” ) But it was a song they have co-written with Beth Nielsen- Chapman entitled “Taking Myself Back” that particularly impressed me ( “Hold onto your butt, this one’s straight out of the oven!” said Charity ) Then again “Sway” ( which came about after Ally and Shelly, who are married by the way, slow-danced at a BBQ) was wonderful too…..it will be interesting to the fully produced versions of all these new ones when the album is released. As with most good songwriters a lot of their material is based on personal experiences ( not many of them happy either, as they are the first to admit!) and they introduced and explained their inspirations throughout the evening which is something i like to hear when seeing a live performance ( and the reason I wish we had more singer/songwriter evenings here in the UK) .
As an encore we were treated to the song that started everything off for Red Sky July, ” Morning Song” and then to round off the evening their superb cover of Donna Fargo’s “The Happiest Girl in The Whole USA” which Shelly said she wishes they had written. But never mind, Shelly, you three have some fantastic songs of your own of which you should be very proud, and if what I heard at this gig was anything to go by your new album will be another that will definitely be added to my playlist. Oh, and see you at Midwinterfest in January!
Travellin’ Soldier ( cover)
Here Then Gone
Walking Country Song
Silent Night ( Xmas Carol)
Country Roads ( cover)
Save Christmas Day For Me
Taking Myself Back
Loving You’s Easy
Warm My Heart
White Christmas ( cover)
Happiest Girl ( cover)