REVIEW: Paul Rhodes’s verdict on John Smith and Native Harrow, Pocklington Arts Centre, April 5

John Smith: “Great balm for a spring Tuesday”. Picture: Paul Rhodes

JOHN Smith has a slippers-and-onesie type of voice; soft, comforting and a little frayed around the edges. Performing solo, this long-postponed gig was a great balm for a spring Tuesday.

As other have noticed before, Smith’s voice does sound like John Martyn (in his mid- Seventies prime before his lifestyle destroyed it). You could imagine Martyn covering Town To Town, a memorable travelling hangover of a song.

Smith, as his name denotes, is a songwriter with the common touch. As is often the case for songwriters who emerge from the folk scene and then seek to take the middle ground, Smith’s earlier material was the most striking.

Hummingbird was wonderful, as was the encore Winter, played with his guitar on his lap. Many of the newer songs were less memorable. Not all, as Star Crossed Lovers proved, thanks to its more unusual arrangement (and even better on record with Lisa Hannigan guesting). Smith is looking to regain the momentum he was developing pre-pandemic, but his style relies on not trying too hard, and tonight he pulled this off with aplomb.

For performers unaccustomed to this East Yorkshire town, the intensity of the audience’s silence while listening can come as a shock. Smith seemed worried that he’d lost the room by joking about other counties.

He needn’t have fretted, as the near sell-out crowd were quietly but determinedly on his side. With his humorous, wry between-song banter, and hilarious way of dealing with false starts, he took the show firmly in hand and steered it to a successful finale.

Native Harrow: “Would have been worthy headliners in their own right”. Picture: Paul Rhodes

Before all that, Native Harrow played a very welcome opening set. After the musical imagination on display on their 2020 album Closeness, their pared-back set seemed a little spartan. Some of the more standout moments from the record were absent, Smoke Burns and Shake most obviously, so the set didn’t exactly grab you by your lapels.

The husband-and-wife duo of Devin Tuel and Stephen Hams have a more subtle approach, and would have been worthy headliners in their own right.

Tuel has a beautiful voice that she uses to supreme effect. In dress, and perhaps in musical style, Carole King or Judee Sill would be influences, but as she said at the interval, the heart music of Tim Buckley was at play too.

Turn Turn could have sat, broodingly, on Buckley’s Blue Afternoon album. Hams’ fluid bass and elegant guitar work embellished skilfully, all in the service of the song. Their songcraft has grown better and better over their four albums to date and their career also seems on the upswing. Hopefully both acts will return soon.

Review by Paul Rhodes  

Carole King tribute show to mark Manhattan songwriter’s 80th birthday at Grand Opera House in October

Carole: Marking Carole King’s 80th birthday

CAROLE – The Music Of Carole King celebrates the 80th birthday of the Manhattan songwriter, singer and musician at the Grand Opera House, York, on October 27.

From the producers of the West End shows Seven Drunken Nights – The Story Of The Dubliners and Fairytale Of New York – Coming Home For Christmas, this landmark tribute takes a musical journey from her early beginnings in New York as part of the Brill Building song-writing team to Los Angeles, the Troubadour Club and the Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter movement of early 1970s’ California.

King, who wrote her first number one, The Shirelles’ Will You Love Me Tomorrow, at only 17, turned 80 on February 9.

Carole – The Music Of Carole King: Visiting Grand Opera House, York, this autumn

The show features not only songs from the Carole King songbook but also hits written and recorded by Aretha Franklin, The Drifters, The Shirelles, The Monkees, The Beatles, The Everly Brothers, Dusty Springfield, Little Eva, Herman’s Hermits and James Taylor.

Co-producer Ged Graham says: “Carole King is one of the most influential songwriters in pop music history. Her music has rocked the world for so long and all the songs have been laced into the fabric of life for over 60 years. This production is a showcase of not only her music but just how much she has been a force that has shaped pop music.”

The autumn tour show brings together singers, musicians and dancers to cover more than six decades of music. Tickets are on sale on 0844 871 7615 or at

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Carole King’s Tapestry takes on Joni Mitchell’s Blue in a 50th anniversary tussle. The Magic Christian revisited, Ringo Starr et al. Hurry, hurry, to see Cecil Beaton’s gilded photographic days in Sheffield Millennium Gallery exhibition.

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