First 2019 Retune packs a punch with WardnParker and Ben Sommers
Retune is back for its first show of the year this Sunday (Feb 3). Its concept of high-quality live music that promotes wellbeing and mindfulness remains the same, but with an important twist: the six shows in 2019 are free entry – donate what you can – in order to increase accessibility.
Entertaining the audience this weekend will be hip hop double bass-playing and beatboxing duo WardnParker, one of Stortford’s finest musical exports Ben Sommers, country-influenced singer-songwriter Roisin O’Hagan and percussive acoustic act Majelen, all the way from Brisbane in Australia.
WardnParker are Clifford Ward (founding member of The Willows) and John Parker, whose previous duo, Nizlopi, reached No 1 in the UK charts with The JCB Song in December 2005.
“For a duo we sound more like a six-piece band, with beatboxing and double bass playing at the same time,” says John“We have lots of harmonies and we're not very good about being shy and bashful, so it'll be entertaining with lots of banter. Be prepared to get involved too!
“This year so far has involved plenty of recording and planning as we prepare to release our debut album, One, on March 23rd. This show is part of our winter/spring tour; it's busy being a self-releasing musician nowadays.
“The album started out as a couple of songs recorded with the great Cambridge songwriter and producer Dan Wilde [a 2018 Retune artist] and we loved his approach so much. Cliff is a songwriting machine, so we just kept going. It's been a joyful experience and very relaxed too.”
WardnParker’s sound is quite rootsy and hip hop in nature with the beatboxing, but the double bass lends them a jazzy air. Their songs draw from John Martyn, Ryan Adams, Newton Faulkner, Metallica, Radiohead and even some AC/DC guitar riffs. “We play all the music we love and we love a lot of different music,” says John.
“I think our love of playing music together shines through and we get to play to our individual strengths. Neither of us are young lads and we've been there and done it, so now we play with a real sense of freedom and for the sheer joy of creating music.”
As for how music and creativity are connected with wellbeing, John is passionate about the link.
“Music has saved my life, straightened me out and at times taught me how to love well, be a better person and express anger in a healthy way," he said.
"I'm my mum's carer (she has vascular dementia) and music soothes her anxiety like nothing else seems to.
“I approach playing live very differently now. There's a real sense of joy when I play on stage as it's a release or meditation for me from the stresses of being a carer. Retune do great work and I'm very pleased to be playing for them.”
Ben Sommers, best known for his work with Mozzy Green, had not performed live for almost three years until he played a special two-song set at the November Retune. An utterly captivating live performer, his intense act simply has to be experienced, and his presence on Sunday is sure to draw a healthy local following.
Ben will be visiting some songs from his back catalogue alongside some Mozzy Green stuff and maybe a new track or two. He is currently working alongside Theo Howarth (Vertaal) on a continuation of his Avocado Chip project. He is also putting together a stop-motion animation film with storyteller Peter Kimber.
“I write what’s in my head and see songwriting as a form of therapy, so I’ve never been one to chase a sound,” he says. “At a push I’d probably say the closest thing I sound like is a late-night cat fight, but I’m not my biggest fan. I’m a huge Syd Barrett fan though, and I’ve recently discovered Alex Harvey and SAHB so that’s been on heavy rotation at home.
“I’ve been watching what Tom and the guys from Retune have been doing here in Bishop’s Stortford and I’ve felt so humbled to watch it become the success that it has. It’s 2019 and life is pretty complicated for us all, trying our best to navigate this digital age with all the trials it brings. It’s important to recognise these pressures and to be able to honestly converse with each other about mental health. I know for me, music has always been that light in the darkness.”
Roisin O’Hagan was selected by legendary guitar manufacturer Fender to become a Fender Undiscovered Artist last year, which has propelled her music on to a wider audience. She will be performing the singles she released throughout 2018 as well as some new music.
“My set ranges from country/pop love songs to darker, much more sensitive tracks, so you can expect a bit of everything,” she says.
“I describe my overall sound as country/pop, although I don’t think it’s fair to box all of my songs in that genre as they also encompass a grittier, darker style.
"While I’ve always listened to country/pop, including early Taylor Swift, I also admire songwriters from many genres and take bits of inspiration from each of them. One of my main songwriting heroes is Adam Duritz, the frontman of Counting Crows, and people have told me they’ve heard that in my writing.
Music has also been a powerful force in her life.
“Music has always been something I've had to lean on and something I can’t imagine being without," she says. "I remember being 11 and scribbling lyrics and making up parts of songs, and how important that was for my own happiness.
"It's also an incredibly exciting and rewarding feeling when you perform or release a song that means a lot to you and it begins to mean something to other people too. I think we all have a desire to feel something ‘real’ and know that there's someone else who feels that too. Music does that for a lot of people.”
As for Majelen (real name Helen Ashworth), she has completed a short spell in the UK and will soon be returning home down under, so you may not get the chance to see her for again for quite some time.
She says that her audience can expect high-energy percussive guitar playing with some ‘fairly epic’ solo breaks thrown in, plus lots of stories about travel, family and the people she loves. She is currently moving around the globe and working on her next EP, The Story.
“I self-produce a lot of my own tracks so finding the time to do this around ‘normal life stuff’ is a constant and tricky balancing act,” she explains.
“I would describe my sound as an energetic, percussive, folky-jazz smoosh! I'm not really sure what to call it, but I would compare it to guitarists like John Butler and Tommy Emmanuel.
“I think travelling is the best education you can get. University was great for me too, but when you travel the world you meet people with different ideas and ways of doing things that can broaden your own understanding and perspective for the better.
"I also love hearing the music of other cultures and am fascinated by the rhythms of Africa and the melodies of India and south-east Asia. My music has grown and changed as a reflection of the person I am constantly becoming.
Helen struggled to speak to others growing up, and music has provided her with purpose, direction and a means of self-expression throughout her life.
“Music has been a rock for me. I've struggled with depression and had terrible self-worth issues as a young person, but playing music was a way for me to honestly express myself without the fear of being 'wrong'.
“I think it still is. It's my safe place where I am really myself, and I hope that my music will encourage others to truly be themselves too.”
* Come and experience Retune for yourself – it is a decision you will not regret. Register for the gig at www.retune.org.uk and follow @RetuneUK on social media or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Live music starts at 6.30pm and the evening concludes at 9pm.