Preamble: I found myself in the beautiful English City of Bath on this evening, looking for some live music to go to. The only gig I could find within walking distance of my hotel, was by a duet that I must admit I’d not heard of before: Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer. Not having a clue as to their style of music, but always keen to explore new sounds, I went along to the designated venue to listen and learn.
Chapel Arts Centre is a charming little venue in Lower Borough Walls in the centre of Bath. It has been open under its current name for about four years; and apparently hosts various ‘alternative’ artistic shows; exhibitions and workshops – on music, dance, film, poetry, mime, comedy etc. It is, as the name suggests, an old chapel. It holds up to 200 people; has a bar; a café – and the acoustics are said to be the ‘best in Bath’. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to speak to anyone from the venue though.
Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer are a young couple from San Juan Island, just off the coast of Washington State, USA. (Half way between Seattle in the US; and Vancouver in Canada). They met in Flagstaff, Arizona, and have been collaborating as a duet since 2010. Both have had solo careers. They have released two albums together to date: Seed Of A Pine (2012); and Maritime (2015). Dave sings and plays acoustic guitar and djembe (a traditional West African drum); and Mandy sings and plays both acoustic and electric guitars.
Dave and Mandy’s Two-Part Set: I arrived just in time; as the duo were just about to begin, and there were only a few seats left. They played a good variety of songs from their repertoire. Each song was preceded by a sometimes amusing; sometimes quite lengthy; but always interesting preamble that explained it nicely. I always like a little spoken introduction; as it helps to understand the song and what the song-writer is getting at.
Their set contained several great songs in a variety of styles; from the Jazzy ‘Magnolia Trees’ to their unique cover of Van Morrison’s ‘Moondance’ (with McGraw on djembe); and from the eye-brow raising Progressive instrumental ‘Train-Wreck’ (a fine display of Fer’s acoustic skills), to the spookiness of ‘Dark Dark Woods’. Many of the songs had unexpected endings too. All in all I found it a thoroughly enjoyable set; and I wasn’t alone in that, judging by the applause given up at the end of each song.
Influences: Having previously had no knowledge of the duet at all, comparisons were inevitable. Their music is generally Folky / Americana in style; characterised by some very good vocal harmonies and very unusual arrangements; but their influences are obviously wide ranging. They reminded me of various artists that I couldn’t quite put my finger on (although artists as diverse as Firefall, Giltrap, and Toad The Wet Sprocket spring to mind a little). Yet always their sound was original nonetheless.
Musicianship: McGraw is highly competent and thoroughly reliable as a rhythm guitarist, and made himself very useful on the djembe. His vocals were very good too, I must say. Fer’s voice and vocal style at times reminded me of the dulcet tones of Minnie Driver (perhaps a little of Stevie Nicks) yet she is unquestionably unique. She was also very impressive as a guitarist; confidently manipulating the volume swell on her Strat; and having a very singular lead guitar style too (sometimes with a subtle muted reverb). As performers they were quite animated on the stage, and so were interesting to watch too.
Post gig blah-blah! I introduced myself to Dave after the first set. Like most musicians he is an amiable bloke who was keen to talk about his music. When I told him I was from Essex, he said that he and Mandy had recently played a gig in the pretty Essex village of Finchingfield – not too far from my home. That gig had unfortunately passed me by, but of course I didn’t know them then. Dave then kindly gave me a copy of their Maritime CD for review; and I hope to get that done soon, as its very good indeed – watch this space.
After the second set, I also spoke to Mandy. She too is a thoroughly nice person; and keen to meet and talk to the punters. She had run out of copies of her solo album The Other Side (which is credited to her real name of Mandy Ferrarini); but gave me a code to download it – I have, and its good. Thanks Mandy!
Their short tour of the UK is now over, and they have moved on to tour Holland; Switzerland; and Spain; before going back to the USA. I’ll look out for their return to these shores and try to see them again if I can. This was a chance gig that really paid off for me; and I recommend seeing this fine duet if possible. PTMQ
Here is a link to McGraw and Fer’s website… http://daveandmandymusic.com/