Breathing Space

Woodcutter, Hartlepool

1 September 2006

It doesn't seem as long as six weeks since I saw Breathing Space's first show, and now here I am reviewing their second one and in danger of repeating myself. It was the same basic format as the last show, two hours of music in two separate sets, with an almost identical selection of songs. There was quite a decent-sized crowd (not all in Mostly Autumn t-shirts!) and I'm sure the band made a few new fans.

I found myself concentrating on Iain Jennings (keyboards) and Mark Rowen (guitar), because it's their combined sound that dominates the music — but that's not intended as a slight to the contributions of the rest of the band. There's a huge amount of talent in this band, so much that you get the feeling you've only seen half of what they're capable of. I'm looking forward to the time when they have enough of their own material to pick and choose what works best live and to vary their sets some more. Honestly, they're too good to be playing Roxette covers. (Yes, I understand the need for the covers. And I also see a lot of sense in the choices — the audience must have a lot of people not familiar with the album, and you have to play something they know to keep them hooked. That's something I didn't appreciate last time but looking at the audience "demographic" last night, the song choices were very well judged.)

So, since last time they have added one new song (Coming up for Air, according to my notoriously dodgy memory). It's a great song, more evidence that they need to get some of this stuff recorded soon. It's hard to describe the song... it's unusual but I liked it. An odd but interesting rhythmic structure, a melodic chorus that seems like it's in the wrong song, and a guitar solo with a bit of a Blackmore sound... somehow it all works and is very cool.

I won't do a song-by-song dissection but I'll try to mention some highlights...

Hollow — Mark Rowan really seems at home playing this laid-back melodic style and the guitar and keyboard mix perfectly.

Distant Train — I'm going to praise Mark again, because here we have him "duet" with himself on guitar and "flute" — actually some kind of flute emulator for his guitar (I guess all those multiple leads from the guitar go into some kind of synthesiser). It was a totally unexpected effect and I loved it. Close to being the highlight of the night for me!

Feeling Good — ok, after complaining about too many covers, I have to confess that I loved how this sounded, very powerful and exhilarating.

Belief — still my favourite song on the album, performed beautifully last night.

You Still Linger this closes the set and it's a great live arrangement. Olivia's lead and backing vocal lines and improvisations on the chorus work very well. The long instrumental section gives Mark Rowan more chance to show off a wealth of impressive techniques, and finally it finishes with a superb organ solo! It only then occurred to me how completely piano-dominated the Breathing Space songs are; not a bad thing, but the change to the organ sound (which I love) made for a perfect ending.

I've already written more than I intended (so what's new?), but I'll get in a quick word about Olivia Sparnenn's voice. I felt that she was slightly "off" for the first set. Never bad, but never quite as good as I know she can be. That all changed in the second set. I don't know if she was more warmed up by then, or the second set of songs just suit her better, or what, but she suddenly hit her stride and powered through everything with ease, and her range and power really is quite phenomenal. (I think I like it best when she cuts back on the vibrato, and I love how she sounds in the lower end of her range, and when she does something "different" like Shades of Grey. But it really is a remarkable voice.)

It's weird when Olivia suddenly walks off stage and sits in the audience during an instrumental bit. I mean, due to the stage layout she didn't have anywhere else to go, but it was still kind of disconcerting (and kind of endearing). And while I'm on the subject of weird things, when the bell rang she shouted out "last orders" in mid-verse without missing a beat! Brilliant...

And just to be balanced, I'll mention the negative points... the crowd noise from the back of the room was very annoying, but I think that's just something you have to live with in this kind of venue. And I found the backing vocals to be inaudible, presumably a sound balance problem because they were obviously trying hard.

Ok, that's it. No — one last word about Adam Dawson, playing the support slot again. He's got a great voice, an interesting guitar style, and a good set of songs (his songs all have "unexpected" melodies... and no, I can't explain what I mean, you'll have to hear him for yourselves). Somebody I definitely recommend looking out for.

Ok. That's really it.