Henley-on-Thames' summer festival has been making headlines of late, but away from thoughts of summer and superstars there are plenty of smaller scale musical highlights to enjoy. It's a cold, blustery night, and I.A.M. (Intimate Acoustic Music) is about to deliver its first public gig, promoting local musicians with one requirement – talent.

The musical project is headed by singer-songwriter and promoter Louise Petit: “I moved to Henley a couple of years ago and was immediately struck by the need and desire to provide original artists a platform to perform their music,” she says.

Tonight's venue is a gymnasium by day. Petit has managed to secure the support of local businesses, none more so than Athlete Services. Weights, dumbbells, machines with pulleys, benches and exercise bikes are being replaced by seats as musicians go through their soundchecks. The owners of Athlete Services, Rob and Laurence, says, “It was great to have such a fantastic event at the shop.”

Local radio station Marlow FM also support Petit’s initiative, providing interviews and airtime for some of the artists lined up with I.A.M. For those wanting to sample the bands scheduled to perform, Henley record store In The Groove Records will point you in the right direction.

Petit explains in more detail the origins of I.A.M. and future plans: “It has three main aims. Firstly to raise money for one of our local schools, who are trying to raise funds to build a new classroom. To do this we provide home concerts; we set up artists to play live at your home. It’s great fun – I’ve played home gigs myself to family and friends over the years. It’s an idea which is really taking off, especially if you have the available house or garden space.

"Secondly, we want to create an intimate listening music night for both musicians and music fans so that original music can truly be appreciated. Thirdly, are the public concerts. I want to provide quality musicians with an opportunity to play here in Henley. Also to offer local music fans an opportunity to attend gigs without the need to travel into London, Reading or Oxford etc. Oh and there's a fourth. For the project to be a roaring success,” she says with a hopeful laugh.

Performing tonight are Bear and the Woods and Philip Murray Warson, who is accompanied on double bass by Pete Thomas.

Bear and the Woods is the inaugural act opening up I.A.M.’s first public gig. In fact, it’s Bear (Matt Jones) playing solo along with acoustic guitar. Between gigs with his own band, he plays solo around the country, playing his own material and those recorded with Bear and the Woods. He released a new EP 'Now, The Winter' this year, and he is also supporting John Otway when he plays Reading in late December.

Jones has a range, style and lyrics best described as grunge folk. He tries to keep the mood light and humorous, at one point telling the audience: “I know you think I probably live on the street, but I do sleep in a house, occasionally, honest,” referring to his ponytail, bushy beard and large square cut fisherman#s sweater.

His lyrics carry deeper messages, constantly referencing difficult subject matter such as death, depression, fear and loss. He’s a lyrical storyteller. 'Sink or Swim' examines how people decide to carry on – or not – in the face of life's challenges. His composition 'The Trick is to Keep Breathing' references Janice Galloway’s novel of the same name.

He lightens the mood with more traditional fare; 'My Son John' being a particular highlight.

Next on the bill is Philip Murray Warson, whose background in theatre is apparent in his effortless audience communication skills.

Warson's music is more at the Americana end of things. He opens with 'Wild Mountain' and 'Hiding in the Sun' which demonstrate his guitar skills and fine wordplay. Pete Thomas provides excellent support on double bass throughout the evening. 'Last of the Hunter', the title track from Warson’s debut album, is particularly memorable.

Somehow Warson is cajoled into sharing his impression of a talkative Bob Dylan. The audience finds this very funny, though Warson looks like he's praying for a theatrical trap door to open.

His Shakespearean 'Lover and his Lass', with a nod to the bard's 'As you Like it', is a real crowd pleaser. Although not strictly allowed, Warsan moves into rock mode, with an exhilarating performance on slide guitar. He and Thomas may have unearthed a budding partnership at the first time of trying.

Petit’s I.A.M. project showcased two great performers mixing musicianship, humour and songs well worth hearing again.

So if you're around Henley-on-Thames and you hear, ” I'm just going to the gym,” it’s probably an I.A.M. musical workout on their agenda.









Related Links:

http://bearandthewoods.com/
http://www.louisepetit.com/
https://philipmurraywarson.bandcamp.com/
https://twitter.com/philipmwarson
https://www.facebook.com/bearandthewoods
https://www.facebook.com/louisepetitsings


Commenting On: Athlete Services, Henley-on-Thames, 29/11/2015 - IAM








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