It is 2013. Happy new year. Back in the old year I reported much on the Karamel Music Club – a favourite haunt. Free music, cheap food, good company, accessible premises. Well in this age of austerity, the collective’s masterful leader, Chris Sheehan, has only gone and opened another club night ‘The Northern Embassy’, dedicated to northern songwriters in the heart of Soho, which access aside retains much the same endearing qualities. And so it was, on a cold, wintry, snow laden day that I made my way to central London from the frozen wastes of Potters Bar.
Sansa had put more miles in. Flying to meet us from Helsinki. A strong, natural performer with expressive hands that stave off diva hell. She leads with her own songs. Her lyrics real; “I didn’t mean to make you cry. I’m sorry my love”, and what about this advice in the season of economical hell; “Create your own vision, let it set you free. Follow a path of your own. Be true to yourself.” Something’s Got Me Started, she re-arranges Simply Red, into a stately folky gauze wherein the lyric is given prominence over glossy, pop production. I never knew Hucknall wrote so well. Learn here Mick. Bring back the Stars to your eye.
Blair Dunlop is my main draw tonight. Scion of the revolutionary folkie Ashley Hutchings, Blair is on the crest of having his debut solo album released on vinyl this very day. It’s on sale by the bar and seems worth a peddle. Blair seems to have all bases covered. He has depth and lighter edges, covering all required bases. It seems sons of famous fathers shiver in the shadow of paternal achievement. Blair could yet prove the exception and may soar above the Thompson’s and the Wainwrights. A song about Christopher Marlowe sees him admitting, “I’ve seen a trick or two in my life”. Blight and Blossom takes you through a year in a relationship ending in the hopeful phrase; “My thirst is greater than it was at the start of the year”.
And then came the young, exuberant Dunwells all the way from Leeds. Certainly the crowd’s favourites, they “don’t need safety anymore”. This may not come over from the video presented here but tonight they are Mumfords without sham rock and Eagles who soar above the wasted scene. Their break up song; ‘Oh Lord’ speaks to me with its line “Oh lord, I’m calling out your name, oh lord, I feel so ashamed” – the guitar lines bringing spirit to the powerful sense of rhythm that rattles out tonight with enthusiasm and energy – as do lines given elsewhere; “Find your feet my friend, just go forward. Shit goes down just carry on regardless”.
Each and every highlighted lyric gives me a reason to believe in a better year a coming. They relate to true feelings and empower. The Northern Embassy adds to the creed being spoken. It’s too good to believe that this night will be repeated at the Karamel Club whose members show up in force to give their support to Chris and it’s hard to believe that Chris Sheehan will host a better line up this year but talking to the faithful Kevin, Sound Engineer, you know….. I think he will.
With respect to Tim Hardin
Up early, yesterday, sitting at the PC, marvelling at an early youtube clip sent by Chris Sheehan of Robert Plant getting up to sing a rollicking rock blues with Charlie Wood .. Late last night going home having seen Chris compere for Charlie’s chilled out jazz grooves at the Karamel Music Club, Wood Green, London, I thought I need to tell my readers about this place.
This story reflects on Keys to the Karamel Club’s Sweet Konnektions. Chris Sheehan, Creative Director of Karamel Music Collective prefers to call himself a singer songwriter. A while back he had the opportunity to lead a couple of days at a Chris Difford's (Squeeze) songwriters week. They met, they played, they created, and became the bedrock of the Karamel’s Music Nights – all sweetly konnekted – all top of their kraft, all konnekted to others, and the others starting to come to the Karamel – a kalm, kollected kollektive dedicated to good times and kraft. Ddi the people who used this k technique for the Kinks back in the day have a spell chekker korrekting all the words?
Songwriters seem to inhabit a secret life of their own, scuttling off to dark corners of the soul, returning with rewards for all who want to listen. They don’t necessarily front their own songs. Others sometimes do it. Some have other abilities. They can sing, they can play. They are wanted. Charlie Wood is connected to Jacquie Dankworth, herself a Karamel regular and scion of Cleo Laine and Johnny Dankworth. Other artists who have shown up have been connected to Fairground Attraction, Alicia Keyes, Shirley Bassey. The list goes on. They have been around, they're not muppets, nor pop puppets. They are real, authentic, rootsy and red hot. They have turned themselves around to face a little club in North London. Why? To be connected, to form a community, to be loved and wanted. It’s not quite Laurel Canyon. Its’ not quite CBGBs. The talent has its own flavour and collects quietly and modestly at the Karamel. And listen to this…. they play for nothing. A tip jar is passed around. The community, a crowd prepared to sit, liten and adore gladly show their respect and appreciation.
The crowd itself is another key to the Karamel. Every time I go there I find someone new to talk to. A politician, a producer, a fan, lovers of the arts. Many come through their connections with the Chocolate Factory and Collage Arts whose Director, Manoj Ambassna, is almost always in attendance, networking, listening to ideas, wanting to support.
There is an element of playing for a pie and a pint. They get fed and watered by the mighty Ian, chef with his own connections to restaurants a foodie would have heard of. Ian’s always hot, always cheap, always excellent food is another key element. It should be praised highly.
Then there’s Rosely Funari who runs the club itself, who has created the comfort, the ambience, the warmth, further keys. Rosely is supported by family and volunteers. She is another who is willing to talk with, work with, mentor artists. She might be top of the food chain but she is no feeder. She is the final key element in a club that gives and keeps on giving. The Karamel is a love fest.
The Karamel seeks to be accessible and inclusive. A disabled toilet has been built into the premises. Rosely wants to know if it’s right. She wants to listen to anyone who can tell her how to improve things so the club becomes more and more a thing for everyone, a place for a community to grow. Support it.
In the spirit of inclusivity, I have been offered the Karamel space for 6 weeks later in the year. I want to hang works by our artists on the walls, I want people to use the performance space, I want to host talks and put on workshops that reveal our lives, our world to this keen to learn community. If you are interested in participating drop me a line on my other blog;