Sailing Stones  with Hannah Ashcroft and James Holt

The Eagle Inn, Salford

Wednesday 28 June

Crossing over Blackfriars Bridge between Manchester and Salford seems like a fitting place to start thinking about connections – what pulls people and places together. It was at Salford pub The Eagle on 28th June that a crowd came from across Greater Manchester to watch soloist Sailing Stones, who had travelled up from Bristol, supported by Northern musicians Hannah Ashcroft and James Holt.

For meaningful connections are only as strong as the determination of those involved in developing them – and it was on this Wednesday night that there was a clear display of not only creating new sound, but conveying it to the audience in a way that they could carry with them. The development continues. It was a night of musicianship which made you appreciate the new areas for reflection which can be opened up by musical ambition, that’s for sure.

Organised by Shay Rowan, Manager at Little Sparrow HQ (Little Sparrow herself a musician and reviewed also in Louder Than War here) – this was an event definitely influenced by his eye for inspirational detail, as evident in his photography work on the Manchester music and culture scene.
First on stage was Hannah Ashcroft, a Manchester-based singer songwriter whose tracks unwrapped her experience of travel, tales of crossing continents, not through dramatic flourishes of imagery, but a tone and timbre warmed with an artistry which has learned to take shape from the journey.

Confident finger-picked acoustic accompanied with her assured vocals meant this was music to make you think – tracks like A Word To The Wise, unlocking her folk-acoustic ability which seems to combine storytelling with songwriting. Her track Tourists especially – which combined a reflection on identity with the tale of plastic mannequins abandoned in a house.jamesa

A striking aspect of the night was that these were three solo artists with very distinct sounds – and yet the transition between them was smooth – an event with a creative chemistry to it. Next was James Holt whose tracks tread through as well as turn up the emotions with a great range of tempo – from songs of love and loss to the excitement of escapism, all in one set.

James is a singer, songwriter and multiple instrumentalist able to take experience, mould it into music and make the audience feel through it, live it, too. Take his track Butterfly – the live version on the night bringing tears to the eyes through tender plucked guitar and raw, resonant vocals which hit the heights of ‘butterfly’ with bittersweetness.

Telling of a symbol of hope but also impermanence, it’s a poignant piece about mortality – and with its power to move, confirms that it is feeling and emotion which remain as life’s intrinsic quality. This was followed by the warm nostalgia of Come Out to Play and the longing of Burning Moon.

Topping off James’ set was his new track Whatever Happened to John? a rousing rock’n’roll rhythm and vocals textured with a grittiness which get into the grooves of the listening experience. I wondered what the new single would be like without the driving harmonica harmony as present in the recorded version, but as a soloist and just with his guitar, James pulled together a foot-thumping, pulse-rousing ramble through identity which wields the line ‘You’ll stand me in a line but you’ll never be in control’. Don’t conform, transform – and that phrase applies to his ever-increasing, always-developing musical skill.

Finally on the night was headliner Sailing Stones, artistic title of Jenny Lindfors travelling up from Bristol, originally from Ireland. She brought deep folk-infused music unfurled e in front of us – and by that I mean one single person assembling a whole web of sound through layering, repeating, keys and synths. She created a drum beat by looping the sound of her own hand striking the microphone, moulded a whole soundscape through carefully-constructed synths, accompanied with atmospheric vocals.

Sailing Stones The Blazing Sun EP was released in March earlier this year and served as an introduction to her exploratory sound, but now she has developed on the depth – opening up spaces of melancholy and meaning, ahead of the release of Telescopes.

The songs seemed to flow formatively into other over her set, building in their capacity for self-reflection and although deep they still infused with movement, meaning that these are tracks just as much about moving forward and embracing emotion, rather than just contemplation.

Running her hand around the ring of a stone vessel spun out its circles of sound for one of my favourite experiences of the evening, played as an atmospheric backing. That is what quality live music should indeed be all about – the experience, which indeed it was.


Sailing Stones


All words by Emily Oldfield.

Photography by Shay Rowan.

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