After years of NYJO-graft, Sarah Ellen Hughes emerges as an astonishingly assured singer. She has an engaging personality. She sings with rhythmic drive but also rhythmic freedom, surprising versatility across a range of styles, and a wonderful sense of phrasing. She launched straight into Them There Eyes, she zipped through Taking a Chance on Love with what must be the world’s longest ear-rings swaying in rhythm.
In fact there was only one moment she managed to wrong-foot herself- and it wasn’t when she was singing. It was when she was explaining , with her good -natured smile, that the Spice of Life has its singers nights on a Wednesday, and that on Thursday it has nights for “er, instrumentalists because we’re musicians too.” That’s a telling remark: Sarah Ellen Hughes is a singers’ singer, a musicians’ musician, or indeed any combination of the above.
I would very much like to be able to say that the audience took Sarah Ellen Hughes to their hearts last night. But she had a battle on, to win over the attention of a loud birthday group who had taken a table right in front of the stand, and whose main objectives for the evening seemed to be:
(a) to get drunk and to gather the bar’s entire stock of large wine glasses onto their table
(b) to drown every instrumental solo.
Musicianship can and will win such people over ..eventually ( I find strangling at birth normally works better). This group’s attention was for once completely grabbed by Cole Porter’s Get Out of Town, which I also thought was the highlight of the set. The song was not only dispatched in style, Sarah Ellen Hughes also went the whole distance with Barry Green’s playful tendency to have a game of catch with the first beat. Is any other young singer capable of playing that
game and winning? I doubt it.
The trio were excellent, watchful smiles in all directions. Jon Blease on drums was strong and vivid, Sam Lasserson was digging deep into his sonorous E string – that’s thinking really low!- and Barry Green’s subtlety of touch just deserves to be heard. Please.
I’m looking forward to the release of Sarah Ellen Hughes’ first album Darning that Dream. It has musicians of the top-flight calibre of Jim Hart and Chris Allard on board. Sarah Ellen Hughes belongs in such company. And I’m looking forward to hearing tonight’s group again, but with fewer distractions.
Highlights of the third set were Emma Smith, a superb young blowsy contralto with great stage presence who nailed Lambert Hendriks and Ross’s Twisted as if it was a nursey rhyme; Just One of Those Things from Joe Stilgoe; an irresistible low-down and funky Comes Love from Zena James. And the perfect closer for the night , Stevie Wonder’s As from Sarah Ellen Hughes and Kwabena Adjepong, a performance ripping with energy and beaming with good humour.