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The one sure, tried and trusted way to get an invite to play at The Wheelhouse in Wombwell is to make a great record. Once that great record is made then the next step is to make sure your British booking agent gets Hedley Jones to hear it. If he likes it, then he's already checking the tour dates, making the phone call, preparing the bedroom, replenishing the bar, making sure the aforementioned record is played over the PA system at every prior house concert and then it's a case of spreading the news via the mailing list. That's how it normally goes anyway.
There was a great deal of anticipation in the air tonight as the room steadily filled up with some of the regulars and one or two new faces, all eager to hear Laurie Levine making her debut at the cosy cabin, whilst I was up at the house having a conversation with the Johannesburg-born singer/songwriter. There was a sense that it had all been a bit of a rush getting to Barnsley, finding the house, setting up the piano, sound checking the other instruments including the autoharp, a guitar, a banjo, a melodica and various bits of percussion, followed by the all-important change of clothes and a freshen up just in time for a quick interview before the show.
Once the routine enquiries were done and dusted, Laurie made her way down to the Wheelhouse where she joined her road partner, the London-based multi-instrumentalist Jessica Lauren. Laurie's job was to perform her songs with that distinctly original voice of hers, whilst accompanying herself on guitar and occasionally the banjo, whilst Jessica's was to make everything sound even more interesting. Her informed keyboard playing occasionally sounded as if she was possessed by the spirit of Billy Preston; that or Booker T Jones. There was a looseness to Jessica's playing, which gave each of the arrangements a certain freedom with more soul than you usually find in this kind of music. If it seemed that these two musicians had been playing together for years, then it must have come as a bit of a surprise to everyone present that these two women had only just met a couple of days before. It certainly surprised me.
The material tonight mainly centred around songs from Laurie's current album SIX WINTERS, the album that has been played over the PA for the last few weeks, but there was also a sprinkling of earlier songs, each treated to a new Jessica Lauren slant. Quite used to playing house concerts, Laurie confessed that having played them from South Africa to Barnsley she felt very much at home. That's the thing about The Wheelhouse in Wombwell, whether you're on that little stage performing or just in the seats watching, you do kinda feel at home.