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The Ukrainian Centre was the venue for this, one of Bronwynne Brent's final gigs of her current UK tour, a venue that was quite chilled when I arrived tonight - chilled in both senses of the word, both laid-back relaxed and extremely cold at the same time. Doncaster appears to be experiencing some difficulty shaking off the winter blues even in the middle of April it seems. Reassuringly, we were told that the bar steward was on his way and the central heating would be cranked up to eleven before the huddled musicians were through the chilly ordeal of their respective sound checks.
I was there early to meet with the Mississippi-born songstress, who I'd arranged earlier to have a chat with. Following me upstairs to the quieter and slightly warmer lounge bar, was this slight figure with long flaxen hair and high cheekbones, not unlike a noble Native American, far from her homeland many miles from this dreary Doncaster evening. Sitting across from me, the singer gave out one of her distinctive laughs whilst confessing that she didn't have a great deal to say, which in turn introduced me to her self-depreciating wit. Judging by her songs, I had already deduced that this woman, at the deceptive age of 42, probably had more to say than she was willing to let on. Displaying one or two signs of fatigue, which is often the case during the last stages of a lengthy tour, Bronwynne said she was looking forward to the final three shows and then would be heading home for a good rest.
Downstairs the show was about to start with two seasoned musicians, New Orleans-born blues guitarist Matt Backer (ABC) and session bassist Phil Spalding (Elton John, Toyah), who went on to perform a high-voltage opening set, including an equally high octane, if somewhat cobbled together Woody Guthrie song, Vigilante Man, together with a handful of rock and blues numbers, each with a dominating pulse that threatened to challenge the decibel meter above the stage. Despite the two musicians having lengthy individual collaborative credentials, the duo were out tonight simply to jam onstage and enjoy every minute of it, even with Backer suffering with the usual symptoms of a seasonal cold (during the sound check he was cocooned within a suitably insulated hoodie).
Relaxed in torn jeans and cowboy shirt, Bronwynne Brent took her seat onstage, flanked by Scots double bassist Euan Burton (Kris Drever, Salt House) and Memphis-based guitarist Joe Restivo (Detective Bureau, The Joe Restivo 4) for the first of two sets. Those already familiar with Bronwynne's distinctive voice, possibly through her two album releases DEEP BLACK WATER (2011) and STARDUST (2014), would certainly not be disappointed with the songs they heard tonight, each delivered with the same strength and vulnerability.
The opening set covered songs from those two records with the occasional standard thrown in. Starting with Wrecked My Mind, the trio soon settled into their stride with one familiar song after the other, including Like the Thunder and Building a Wall, dedicated to Donald Trump, together with a couple from the latest record The Mirror and the poignant Marrying Kind, to which Bronwynne confessed "I'm 42 and I've never been married", quickly followed by "..and I don't want to be, how about that?"
The trio closed the first set with Don't Tell Your Secrets to the Wind, a song that on the album features some fine mariachi-styled trumpet and an infectious Latin rhythm. After our chat earlier in the evening, Bronwynne asked me what direction I felt her music should take in the future. I suggested more of that mariachi-styled music would be just fine. "Maybe I should move to Cuba now that we can go there" she quipped. To me both Cuba and Mississippi are equally exotic.
Cuba would no doubt be rather hotter than Doncaster tonight that's for sure, but there was much warmth emanating from the stage during the course of the evening. The second set featured more songs from Bronwynne's back catalogue, including Love Like a Web, Baby We'd Be Fine and the title song from her debut album, as well as the more recent Devil Again, Heart's on Fire and Already Gone. Toward the end of the set, the trio performed the standard After You've Gone, with some exceptionally tasty jazz guitar playing courtesy of the heavy-eye lidded stony-faced Buster Keaton-esque Joe Restivo, who played like Jim Hall on a summer's day. After a couple of sets of great songs, twenty-two great songs to be precise, the trio returned to the stage for a couple more, Bill Monroe's The One I Love is Gone, followed by a bit of Dame Vera, with the audience all joining in with We'll Meet Again, which I'm sure we will. An excellent night of music.