Two views of the show…..
House concerts can be something a bit special, a small, intimate space, an audience eager to connect and an artist prepared to open up and let the audience share his thoughts as well as his music.
The Square Tower isn’t most people’s idea of a house, though back in Tudor times that was its original function. But as a space for music, it’s second to none, and so it just needed the addition of a singer/songwriter of the calibre of Dennis Ellsworth to create a house concert that delivered on all of its promises; a truly magical evening.
Back home in Canada, Dennis plays, writes and records solo, with a regular band, Haunted Hearts, and in an ever changing array of collaborations. On Sunday it was just Dennis and his acoustic guitar, no amps, no mics, nowhere to hide, but with his vast catalogue of songs to share and his engaging personality, hiding was the last thing on his mind. To describe his song writing as prolific would be a grave understatement, he’s been producing an album of self-penned material every year for the last few years and it quickly became clear that there is also a treasure trove of unreleased material for him to draw on.
Listening to his recordings, after Sunday I’m the proud owner of his 2012 release Dusk Dreams, there is much to engage the ear in the country, roots and Americana tinged arrangements with banjo and pedal steel leading the way. But with just his guitar, attention could linger on the arresting lyrics that are Dennis’ stock in trade. He characterises his music as being fuelled by a kind of dark optimism and he uses this to explore the highs and lows of his experience, whether it’s trying to survive a lonely winter in Toronto or celebrating the life that he and his wife have on Canada’s eastern fringes on Prince Edward Island. Existence there can be dominated by the sea and that’s a source of imagery for his songs, but so is life on the road as a travelling musician. So we get lines such as ‘So I lost my way, I was dashed upon the rocks’ or ‘I went astray on the long and winding road’ pointing to the same theme, lives can be derailed for all sorts of reasons but wait, ‘Take me back to the place where I fell apart, let me fix what I broke like a brand new start, put a little hope in this hollow heart’. The recurrent theme is no matter how rough things are, hang on in there, where there’s life there’s love and where there’s love there’s hope.
Dennis found himself apologising that he didn’t have more ‘happy songs’ but he needn’t have. The lyrics are thoughtful and thought provoking but always suffused with that dark optimism and delivered with a quiet confidence, interspersed with tales of the situations that gave birth to the songs. Happy songs? A performance that radiated quality superbly demonstrated that there are far more effective ways to send an audience home happy. We can be assured that Dennis will be back in Portsmouth at the first opportunity and I for one will be sure not to miss it. I strongly advise you to be there as well.
(Johnny regularly writes reviews and interviews for Folk Radio UK – do have a look at some by visiting www.folkradio.co.uk/author/johnw )
Sunday 8th June saw a sold-out house concert audience enjoying the shady cool of the Square Tower, which was lit by candles and an assortment of coloured lights. The perfect accompaniment to a blisteringly hot yet lazy Sunday would have been some of Dennis Ellsworth’s music. It just so happens that he walked into the tower, guitar at the ready and took to the stage!
Dennis’ music is so relaxed, it was almost as if he were singing a set of lullabies to the audience. If you’ve listened to his critically acclaimed ‘Dusk Dreams’ album, you will have undoubtedly recognised the smooth tones of his vocals and the lilting guitar melodies which accompany them.
Only on a small tour of the UK this year, we were thrilled to have Dennis perform for us; especially as we were treated to a fair few new tracks, yet to be recorded. The set also consisted of a number of songs from his latest release, ‘Hazy Sunshine’, such as ‘Things I Want’ ‘Happiness’ and the appropriately chilled ‘Rudderless Day’.
Dennis also charmed us with almost the entire ‘Dusk Dreams’ album. He played such tunes as ‘Clear Your Mind’, travelling song ‘Park Royal’, the title track ‘Dusk Dreams’, and a rousing fan favourite ‘Electric Stars’. Before the closing of the first half Dennis also gave us a sneak-peak of his unrecorded new track “Shakin’ on the Plank”, which can be seen in the link below (from the top of the tower!). What an absolute treat it was to hear. Needless to say I can’t wait to get my hands on the new record with such high quality of writing on display.
Despite Dennis’ insistence that his songs are somewhat melancholy, the people lucky enough to get a ticket to this intimate show, sat with smiles of wonder on their faces across both 45 minute sets. The reality of Dennis’ music is that it is accessible to all moods and situations – whether you’re spending a few hours behind the wheel or just chilling in the sunshine.
photos reproduced with kind permission ©2014 Lloyd Brown & Donna Brown