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Ben Parker

Basement Bar, York
Thursday 6 November 2008

Once again The Basement Bar in the centre of York, just tucked beneath the City Screen Cinema, became the place to be tonight, with four more delightful sets hosted by Rudie and Ian of NxNY, whose collective good sense and impeccable taste once again provided us all with a full evening of outstanding music from both local singers as well as musicians from further afield, Wales for example.

Whilst feet shuffled above our heads, as the mass exodus from the cafe bar to the theatre seats took place, deep beneath all this cinematic activity, a bunch of musicians congregated and moved amongst ordinary audience members made up of York locals and visitors alike, all here with the one objective, to enjoy some good well-crafted songs.

Starting off the night was local singer-songwriter Lizzie Vince, who opened with a short set of her own self-penned songs dealing with themes of love, loss and introspection, accompanying herself on the piano. Keeping the between-song patter to a minimum, Lizzie's Lionheart-era Kate Bush inspired vocal and clear and precise piano treatment gave us a brief peep into her world through the songs alone. 

Holly Taymar on the other hand, gleefully fills her set with lots to say and lots to sing about; an open diary for those of us intrigued with her infectious personality. Joined on guitar by Carl Hetherington, Holly brought us up to date with songs and stories from her neck of the woods, which is coincidentally, just down the road. Toes could quite easily be a journal entry for just another ordinary and uneventful day, but as in the case of most of the best songs around, the delicate arrangement and exquisite playing together with an assured vocal delivery, turn those whimsical fleeting thoughts into engaging poetry.

Bringing us up to speed in Holly's World, we learn that she buys chocolate by the boxful, is clumsy with cardboard (cutting herself in the rush to get at the goodies), owns a couple of lesbian pet guinea pigs (Jonathan and Ray!) and is possibly attracted to the new President elect. Holly's world is a hoot, that's for sure. Bush Song has absolutely nothing to do with George Dubya, but once again details the everyday commonplace aspects of life in general, in this case, tidying up the overgrown garden, with pleasing results even to the non-green fingered amongst us. 

Alun Tan Lan is a Welsh singer-songwriter and former member of the band Seain, who sings exclusively in his native tongue. Accompanying himself on 12-string guitar, standard guitar and banjo, the multi-instrumentalist brought to York a taste of the Welsh language, with a handful of songs including Gwaed ar yr Eira Gwyn and Plant y Tonnau, with the one English language exception thrown in, albeit with a German title ironically enough, the standard Fraulein, famously recorded by the late Townes Van Zandt. Fortunately, the introductions were in English, so we had some understanding of what the songs were about. 

Ben Parker was one half of the duo Ben & Jason (with songwriting partner Jason Hazeley, now writing comedy scripts) whose heights were neither lofty nor dizzy, but unfortunately in the hands of a handful of faceless radio executives, who decided the fate of such acts around a table littered with releases by the likes of Puff Daddy and Michael Jackson. Such was the lot of most artists in the days before the music world decided to return to DIY, with social networking, downloading and the ipod generation suddenly realising there's more to life than the Hit Parade. At least Ben & Jason experienced a 3000-strong crowd at Glastonbury in 2000, 'one of the best days in my life' says Ben, before the duo decided enough was enough. 

With a vocal range reminiscent of Jeff Buckley and a plethora of brooding singers who have emerged in the wake of Grace, Parker takes command of the stage with no shortage of self-confidence and determination. Songs such as Emoticons and Air Guitar, both previously residing with no small measure of pride in the Ben & Jason repertoire, come back to us like they've never been away.

Both relaxed and assured, Parker brought to the Basement Bar songs both old and new which awakened memories of vague familiarity, such as A Star in Nobody's Picture, songs that really shouldn't have slipped off the radar in the first place. One of the outstanding songs of the night was Dream Painted Gold, which stands up alongside the best of any bedsitter troubadour songs you care to mention. 

Kate Aumonier joined Ben for the final few numbers of the night, showcasing songs from a collaborative project the pair are currently working on. Taking up electric guitar for the remainder of the set, Ben returned to the duo format accompanied by a voice that compliments his perfectly well and between the two of them, delivered a memorable debut with passionate performances of a handful of new and exciting songs. 

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky