Lucy Zirins @ Macclesfield Wharf Inn 25/10/14

3 stars (out of 5)

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LZ titleSo there we were in Macclesfield having arrived by boat and having looked around the local gigs and jigs we saw that Lucy Zirins was due to play The Wharf Inn and with it being but a few strides from the canal, it all seemed like a sensible thing to do. Lucy Zirins comes well backed; a lot of specialist radio airplay especially on community stations and Radio 6, a well – received first album in “Chasing Clocks” and a gig schedule including some of the most prestigious blues festivals this year, not to mention a string of Award nominations from the British Blues establishment and you have a ‘what’s not to like?’ cocktail which deserves to be sampled at the very least.

The Wharf Inn is a very independent-looking boozer with a natty line in whacky beers like smoked stout (no kidding!) and a keg beer called Syrup and Figs. They also have reputation locally for decent live music nights. So, nice intimate little venue to hear Lucy Zee go through her paces.

About 9PM and she starts her set to the usual Saturday night pub mix of folks who have come in to see The Turn and folks who have come in to drink and socialise and rather see The Turn as a distraction at best and an annoyance at worst. Not an easy balance keeping everybody happy in that situation, but she did so with the easy grace and charm of someone who has been treading the boards for a while now and has been doing so rather successfully.

She launches into “Ready to Fall” from “Chasing Clocks” and plays an acoustic throughout the first of two sets; it’s pleasant enough, nice voice, nice tune, decent enough lyrics, well played. She then goes into a range of songs taken largely, but by no means exclusively, from the album and each song is politely if hardly ecstatically received by the audience, which she works quite adeptly, recognising and mentioning by name a couple of guys who went to a recent festival, a number of local folks she knows, and a local radio DJ who did an early session with her. Her inter-song raps have a homely Lisa Stansfieldesque quality about them and we are shortly invited to enjoy a refreshing beverage whilst she takes a break.

When she returns she has dropped the acoustic for a blingy dobro which she plays extremely well. Stand-out songs in the set are “Home”, a bit of a ‘road’ song, and “The Last One”. But I find myself becoming increasingly fidgety, and it isn’t just the distance from the gents making me feel uncomfortable. For I honestly thought I was coming out to hear the blues tonight – and I don’t hear ‘em. I hear a very competent and quite likeable singer / songwriter and a very adept musician. Occasionally I hear a country singer and player. True, we get a bit nearer blues-sounding stuff once the dobro becomes the weapon of choice and sure enough there are a few classic covers in the second part of her set including a fun singalong version of ‘Little Red Rooster’ and an encore of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Don’t Stop’ but all told, I seemed to be watching an artist confronted by the same problem I’ve seen loads of talented people unhorsed by over the years.

I don’t think she’s a blues singer, as such. I really don’t. But the thing is, the flag of convenience known generally as the blues means that if you hang your hat on that particular peg, to mangle metaphors horribly, They Know What To Do With You. You get to play blues festivals, you get to do gigs like these and the broad church of ‘blues’ fans will give it a go, record / production companies understand what to do you with you; there’s a process. If you’re singer / songwriter, no fixed artistic abode, you sort of drift around trying to connect with an audience, which, well, isn’t all that big and lacks ‘focus’. As I say I’ve seen many musicians over the years trying to ‘shoehorn’ themselves into ‘the blues’ and it becomes painful to watch.

So if you like a female singer songwriter with some good original songs, but as yet no out-and-out killers, with a good voice and is a very good musician, you could do a lot worse than a night out with Lucy Zirins.

But if you’re looking for a night on the Blues, I’d look elsewhere.