Natasha Haws at Sunderland Minster
Saturday 12th May 2012
I love discovering new venues but never in my wildest dreams did I expect to see a gig in a Church; so, with a lack of mid-sized concert halls in Sunderland, the curators of the Minster in the city centre have volunteered to put on some acoustic concerts across the Summer and several local musicians have grasped the opportunity to play in such a venue.
Opening act, indie band Arbeia suffered from a tiny PA that was cranked up to 11 which meant that their ‘sound’ got lost in the cavernous rafters of the ornate building. From what I could make out they sounded a bit like a Coldplay 45rpm record being played at 33. Not a great start to the evening.
After buying beer and cakes we took our pew for a drums-and-guitar duo called Reckoner, who looked incredibly earnest but actually had tunes, but they too got lost somewhere in the midst of the muddy sound coming out of the speakers.
By the time Natasha Haws strode onto stage, the small stage was lit up with 100 assorted candles and the stained glass window in the knave behind her made for a beautiful backdrop for the teenage singer.
Her first song was called Transatlantic and was about a long distance relationship that’s not really working. Her soft, almost whispered tones floated around the Gothic building like angels’ wings.
Natasha’s next song was the achingly beautiful New Year, which was what first drew her to my attention last December, when it was on a Charity Xmas CD produced by a local collective of musicians. Tonight, together with the story behind the song, it visibly touched every heart in the 200-plus audience.
Midway through the short set, Miss Haws introduced her best friend and musical mentor Martin Longstaff aka The Lake Poets, who joined her for two love songs that were drenched in atmospheric harmonies and some achingly good harmonica playing.
My favourite song from Natasha’s EP Constant Fairytale is about her young brother who suffered seizures and fits until a recent operation. But, even without knowing the back story, it truly is a brilliant song. When the teenager burst into tears at the final note every person in the building wanted to give her a great big hug.
Another delight was when Nat ‘went electric’. Well, not exactly ‘electric’ but tonight Stranger was intricately strummed on a Fender Jaguar and the single snare drum back-beat created a vaguely Native American backing to a charming song.
Then it all went pear-shaped. Natasha’s simple acoustic sound had been perfect for the tiny PA all night so my heart went out to her when her guitar lead decided to stop working just as she introduced her final song – and current single – Stepping Stone.
An array of young men scurried around trying to fix the problem, leaving the young singer to laugh and joke with friends and family until a spare guitar was eventually produced. What a trouper, what a star!
When it finally came, Stepping Stone (about a callous youth dumping her) was well worth the ten minute wait and deserved every second of the standing ovation it and a teary Natasha received as it ended.