Jake Morley, Mae & The Midnight Fairground & Rebecca Maze @ The South Devon Arts Centre, Totnes - 31/05/2013

There's always a buzz when a new venue opens in a town but when that venue promises the best in emerging music, comedy and theatre to a creative community such as Totnes, that buzz is only heightened. I'll admit that I came more for the music than the 'launch night' but my curiosity was peaked when my sat-nav directed me in to the arse-end of an industrial estate on the edge of Totnes. Sure enough, there it was; sandwiched between a Fitness Studio and some kind of welding workshop, the brand new South Devon Arts Centre - paint still drying and doors still to be fitted to some toilet cubicles but ready to welcome music lovers from all around. The venue itself has been put together with versatility in mind with a large dance floor and bar area downstairs as well as a seated viewing balcony upstairs. There was a slightly disappointing lack of posters on the walls and no information about future events but this was the first night and celebration was the watch word.

Following a gentle but heartfelt introduction from Whispering Bob Harris, the first act to officially grace the SDAC stage was the extravagantly dressed and impressively voiced Rebecca Maze. Sounding at times as eccentric as Tori Amos and Regina Spektor, Maze is an impressive talent switching effortlessly between piano and guitar whilst her voice created images and atmospheres that many full bands struggle and fail to achieve. Sadly, the excitement of the opening night was too much for some portions of the crowd who visibly irritated the singer by talking (loudly) throughout the entire set (it's a pet peeve of mine too, why come to watch great, original live music and then talk through it? If you want to talk through live music then go to the pub and listen to a covers band at the very least, don't talk over something that someone has taken time to create and has the courage to perform). Even a mellowed out version of Survivor's 'Eye Of The Tiger' wasn't enough to grab the audience's full attention, sadly.

Mae & The Midnight Fairground
Now, a quiz question for you: What has six legs, an afro, two summer dresses, a cello, a clarinet, a Korg and the personality of an overexcited children's entertainer from the 1950s? Mae and the Midnight Fairground, that's what. When setting up I wasn't sure if this Totnes based trio were going to be brilliant or to twee for my taste but I'm glad to say they were neither, they we're mesmerisingly wondrous. Led by the charming and hugely talented Mae Karthauser, the band kicked off with the rambling but picturesque 'Lucian' ranging from Muse-esque classic-pop piano riffs to moments with more than a hint of Yiddish to them. Ably accompanied by Alex on the Cello and Conrad on clarinet and guitar, Mae is clearly a master of song writing as well as a marvellous raconteur. The songs ranged from tales of the homeless, missing cats and a cautionary tale to those too eager to grow up and be 'responsible' in the instantly infectious 'Mortgage Song'. By the end of the set, Mae had the crowd eating out of her hands and singing along to her songs so with Glastonbury shows already in the bag I would put money on big things happening for this trio, mark my words.

The first time I ever saw Jake Morley play was in a basement bar at about 3.00pm on a Saturday afternoon
Jake Morley
in Brighton and he blew me away with his talents. Two years later and I was keen to see whether that initial encounter had been a fluke and was pleased discover that it wasn't. Morley's use of a guitar is spell binding as he strums, picks, hammers and, let's be frank, batters the living daylights out of the whole instrument to create fresh sounds and ear catching songs. Tonight's performance was slick and relaxed at the same time with Morley switching between sitting with his guitar on his lap and jumping around the stage like a child with ADD. But it's the humour and pathos in Morley's lyrics that make his songs so instantly loveable with established songs like 'Freddie Laid The Smackdown' and 'Feet Don't Fail Me Now' sitting comfortably alongside more reflective new material such as 'Ghostess' and 'Push The Button And It All Goes Back To Normal'. A master of the stage and crowd manipulation, Morley pushed on through the continued chatter to lose himself in the music and the majority of the crowd was more than happy to follow him in his reverie.

There was one other band on the night, Yes Sir Boss, but an early start the next day and the increasingly irritating and disrespectful crowd forced my decision to leave (apologies to the band who I do plan to catch soon). All in all, it was a great opening night and the venue will settle in to its surroundings with a bit more TLC funded by, hopefully, more sell out crowds. I just hope once the initial excitement has worn off that the crowds are a bit more respectful of the musicians as it can really ruin an evening of music at the quieter end of the spectrum for both performers and audience!

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