A quiet anticipation sits heavy in the air as the intimate theatre at The Old Joint Stock quickly fills. Music Earth Rise — the love child of Brendan Poynton’s music industry meanderings — is staging its first event in Birmingham.
With an emphasis on artist insight into the current state of the music industry, Brendan spoke to NUBI last month and broke down just what he was hoping to achieve with Music Earth Rise & SONGWALL.
Tonight is the first harvest of the fruits of his labour. Opening the set himself, he reminds all present first and foremost of his talent as an acoustic artist. In possession of an impressive vocal spectrum, he effortlessly jumps to falsetto range notes, drawing the audience into the evenings concept.
As much the nights curator as a performer, Brendan is joined on stage by Ella Joy, the winner of the SONGWALL contest for this evenings support slot. Currently recording her first EP entitled Lucid Living, she first reveals her musings on her fledgling tenure in the industry.
“I would consider myself successful if I stayed true to my art” she divulges, “being respected as a musician without having to lose or change my authenticity”. Disenchantment with the industry seems to be a common condition found in young artists, one Ella is acutely aware of. “It’s tricky for us to put our art out there, sometimes the authenticity and depth to music can get lost”.
It takes roughly three sung words of her new single Burn for the audience to quickly learn that her legitimacy is not only intact but vast. Her voice is the rolling, rhythmic licking of flames, devouring attention as its fuel. All are engrossed, a shared and genuine disbelief at the calibre of her voice.
An earlier answer when questioned regarding her genre rings true; “I’ve kind of pinpointed my sound as minimal electronic soul, but even then what is that?”. It proves a most fitting description.
Sauntering into her next song Elizabeth, you’d be forgiven for mistaking it as a Bond Theme, her sound on occasion reminiscent of Portishead. The plucked double bass styling of Ocean Blue allowing her to ply her vocal potency, voice bursting with allure.
Closing her set with King, Ella further illustrates enthrallingly evocative vocals, the sparseness of her self-composed backing production a stark contrast to the richness of her voice.
A short break for the audience to regain their sensibility and it is the turn of the fiercely talented Ayanna Witter-Johnson, offering her own introspection on the industry from a point of broad experience. “I genuinely think…everyone is a hustler” she laughs, “ultimately, it’s living life according to my own truths and what I envisage for myself”.
With her cello Reuben ardently cradled and a brightly coloured bag full of song titles passing around the crowd to decide the set order, Ayanna flows into first song Chariot. Dedicated to her father, the sentiment cascades through the room, borne on the soulful crux of cello strings.
Another song pulled from the bag; this time a tale of unrequited love. The SBTV featured A Single Sun from her recent EP Black Panther is unfettered in its beauty. Blurring the line between musician and instrument, her vocal prowess is truly exceptional, the intensity of emotion revealing itself in purest form.
The next song drawn, entitled Come As You Are left the audience dreaming of a Nirvana cover, nevertheless the original composition which Ayanna has performed for the Duchess of Cornwall more than suffices.
Being her first solo performance in Birmingham, it seems only fitting that the next song to be drawn, Gold, is premiered live and as a cello arrangement. A remarkable duality exists between Ayanna and cello, with each allowing the other maximum expression, the bow becoming an extension of her arm.
Nevertheless, not content with simple bow work, Ayanna effortlessly switches to plucking and percussion in her cover of Roxanne by The Police. Every inch of the cello’s physical body being manipulated.
With the crowd enraptured and Ayanna in need of a piano for brand-new composition What I Am, the audience are siphoned into the corridor for an off the cuff rendition. A classically trained musician she makes light work of the piano, the transition from vertical string to horizontal key movement is seamless.
If this was an intimate gig before, it’s now positively cozy, fitting too as Ayanna announces a summer tour of lucky mailing list subscribers in France, Germany and of course the UK.
Having dedicated her first song to her father, the luck of the draw sees the last one, Unconditionally, written for her mother. “My mum said no woodwind, no brass, no drums!” Somewhat unwittingly leading her daughter to the cello with which she has carved such a soulfully, singular sound.
With the festivities drawing to a close, Music Earth Rise’s first foray into the Second City has without question been a resounding success and hopefully the first of many. With soul utterly soothed and some choice words from Ayanna resonating: “Music is a very clear manifestation of vibration, we are all vibration anyway so — music is life.”