The Firestation Arts Theatre in Windsor is an intimate venue with a good sound system and a relaxed continental style table, chair and sofa layout. Tonight Louise Petit has an audience of family and friends, with other punters sampling the available wines on offer. She looks comfortable and relaxed, her dressed down denim style adding to the aura of ease about the place. With Petit on acoustic guitar and Russ Sargeant on bass, they cover numerous tracks from her recent debut album, 'Louder Than Your Drum'.

Petit is a storyteller weaving personal experiences into her lyrics, conveying an intimacy and ownership via her musical style and delivery. Some of the songs are openly dedicated to her husband who is in the audience. 'Plastic and Glue" confirms that she is ready to trust again, hope being her redeeming anchor.

'Away with the Day' is brutally expressive, but beautiful in its poignancy, stating “Oh my heart is open./It’s been closed for so long that I thought it may have been broken.” Its swaying melody and warmth conveys a picture of
a hidden sun finally breaking through a darkened rain cloud.

Between them Petit and Sargeant are a well drilled duo. Their crafted harmonies allow Petit’s vocal range to cover elements of folk, Americana, choral and a level of gospel in parts. Whilst some of the songs are tender in delivery, the underlying themes cover personal conflict: Light or dark, stay or go, life raft or sharks, islands or horizons, decisions to be made.

The title track from 'Louder Than Your Drum' is one for audience participation which isn’t a problem for this particular group. The line "louder than your drum" is repeated, slowly burning into a statement of intent, as the previous verse indicates, “But my new love laughs louder than your drum.” It combines controlled rage with a catchy drumming driving beat...clever.

She does a nice line in audience patter and involvement, her material being neat and amusing at times. You're invited into her world which she shares with every song. The set is delivered with passion and personal history. Stripped back, it usually refers to minimal instrumentation. Here it relates to a personal difficult journey exposed for examination, for those who dare.

By her own admission the past three years or so have been quite a journey. Originally from Staffordshire, she now resides in the Thames side town of Henley-On-Thames. Accompanied by her lovely six-month-old daughter, Isabel, the three of us grab a coffee, tea and juice in one of the town's many eateries.

As we settle down to chat I give an opinion on how well Russ Sargeant and she worked together at the Windsor gig. “Ah, that’s all about to change. Since I’ve moved from the Midlands the distance between Russ and I make it impossible, well, very difficult to rehearse twice a week and play dates south of Birmingham. So, reluctantly we will go our separate ways. There are
no problems between us, except for the miles. I’ve decided to step back, go back to my solo roots as an artist. I want to reconnect with my songs, get to know them again.”

She has also signed with a local label All Will Be Well Records who officially launch the label this month. One of the co-founders, Ian Mitchell, explains, “Our plan is to provide free promotion via social media and articles, label gigs and compilations in order to create a stronger platform for talent that needs to be heard.”

Petit is somewhat flattered “They approached me, which was nice, and it came at the right time. I’m new to the area and they know the venues, so it’s good to have some support with me. I can’t do everything on my own but I will still be picking up the phone to book gigs. I’ve also talked to a couple of bands around Reading on options of a tour together, but discussions are in the early stages,” she makes clear.

Petit has only been playing live for around four years. Performing on stage wasn’t the easiest of transitions. “I was made to play and perform GCSE music on a borrowed guitar which I hated. My mum attempted to get me to play at my 18th birthday which ended in tears. I just wasn’t ready. Although I had been writing songs, they were private. Then around five years ago, things changed. I left a relationship which was very difficult at the time, severing various ties. The whole guilt thing was with me. I started writing, needed to get my thoughts out, down on paper. I was now sharing the songs with my family. Somehow they encouraged me to attend an open mic night. The organisers invited me to play again on the Saturday, and it kind of snowballed from there really.”

Prior to her 2014 debut album, Petit had previously released two EPs 'Fear and My Other Friends' (2012) and 'Make a House a Home - Live' (2013), the latter being about a group of friends getting together, having a good time. It is great fun. In contrast, the 2012 EP is littered with visual and worded references of her turmoil at the time. On the EP’s cover lurks a sinewy tree with protruding branches and roots. Seemingly a “creature” is peeking out from behind the tree trunk. Thesaurus explanations are provided to single words: ghost, demon, love, can, fear. These are accompanied by visual references of directions and choices to be taken: A parachute, a compass, a toy dog with “doubt” across its eyes. It is an open expression of personal demons being fought rather than hidden metaphors.

Petit is open in her admission. Music and songwriting was a form of therapeutic release during those turbulent times. Does she have any issues explaining the source of her lyrics to fans who buy the albums and see her shows, I ask.

“No not at all. I think some of the descriptions I use leave people in no doubt what I’m conveying. There is enough scope for people to say, 'I’ve been through this as well.' Yes, I’ve shared a tear or two with people at the end of gigs. If it helps others as well, that’s great.”

Although some of the album tracks were written four to five years ago, others are more recent. 'Happy Man' and 'Plastic and Glue' confirm Petit has moved forward.

She’s now happily married, settling into a new life. She finds her planning skills humourous as the debut album's release coincided with confirmation of her pregnancy. Tours and promotions were put on hold.

Petit has new ideas which she’s keen to progress. “I’d like to set up an acoustic club, or find a venue in the area where new artists can play, experiment and develop their ideas. Personally I want to get out and play as much as possible, ideally setting up an autumn/winter tour. If time allows, I’d like to release an EP. I’m writing all the time, working on new material. She reminds me, “I played one of my new songs in Windsor, 'Broken at Best'. Written whilst pregnant, she delivered the song with a heavy nod to Americana in both phrasing and arrangement.

Isabel has been the perfect host, but tells Mum she is ready to go. She’s had enough of all this chat with a strange man.

That evening, I play the thirteen tracks from 'Louder Than Your Drum' in repeat mode (the sleeve indicates twelve, but there is a hidden track at the end...ssshhh). The production and mix by Martin Atkinson/Louise Petit, alongside deft string arrangement by Stuart Colam, add depth, maturity and sensitivity to the album. The introduction of violin, viola and cello allow Petit's strength of timing and lyrical phrasing to flourish.

Petit’s live acoustic set in Windsor was engrossing and entertaining. Once strings are added (as per the album), this singer songwriter, however, moves into a different class. I will be interested to see how Petit decides to move her career forward. There are many routes available, but which one she takes, well, look out for her gigs. She is a rare talent with decisions to make.

Quite simply, Petit just needs to get out, and play...on that, Isabel and I both agree.

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