Way back when, around the only time when football actually did come home, New York was awash with folk singers. In 1966 Greenwich Village coffee shops strummed with politics, hippy ideals and tales from real folks. Fred Neil, Karen Dalton and Tim Hardin were writing classics, plotting to (gently) take over the world.
ELLIE GOWERS would have fitted right in.
Tonight it seems unlikely that football will have any sort of homecoming (out there somewhere a tense 0-0 draw with Scotland is being played out) but, after just a few tunes, Ellie leaves this socially distanced audience in little doubt that gloriously talented singer song writers are on their way back, if they ever went away. Admittedly, a church in Downend is hardly a meeting place for the counterculture - no revolution is going to start here - but that's not really the point.
To kick off with an unaccompanied version of Mimi and Richard Farina's The Falcon could be considered a brave move yet Ellie tackles it with aplomb. She sets her stall out and there's no going back. A little later she delivers a perfect rendition of the Anne Briggs classic The Snow it Melts the Soonest and every one of us are quite clear that this is someone that knows their way around a song. Her voice is clear and sweet, high and lovely.
In truth that voice is sort of a game of two halves. Unlike an England performance, however, both halves are brilliant. On Nest and In the Past she is every inch the modern female folk singer; sensitive and heartfelt. Every now and then, though, a different side pokes through. On Against the Tide that sweet voice is pushed to cracking. There's blues lurking and a hint of jazz, something that teeters on the edge. A folk restraint just hauls it back but there, tantalisingly, just for a minute, was an extraordinary thing. It's so thrilling when it happens.
Helping her to keep things tight are two fantastic musicians. Alex Garden adds beautiful violin, understated and nothing flash but adding a waltz-y flavour to the Fairground Attraction tinged For A While. Lukas Drinkwater, on the other hand, is a superstar bassist. Fluid, bubbly textures just cascade from his double bass. On Eva, from the recent Parting Breath EP, he almost swings, adding yet another dimension to this impressive display.
It's deep into the final moments of her thoroughly enjoyable 90 minutes that Ellie pulls off a remarkable hat trick though. Richer was written for The Folk Effect project in 24 hours and is simply stunning; contemporary songwriting at its best. The title track from the Parting Breath EP follows that and just feels special - it starts unaccompanied, the trio slide slowly in to place and it blossoms in to the best tune of the evening. Finally Where my Heart Belongs is beautiful. It's a song of place, of returning, of falling back in love.
Out in the real world, football proved to be disappointing and slightly forgettable. In the world that Ellie Gowers creates, nothing could be further from the truth.
Words: Gavin McNamara
Photo: Barry Savell