By Rick Stuart
Anne Sumner – Legitimately Good Music
Back in June 2016, friend of Roots & Fusion by the name of Mark Flanagan introduced me to the music of Anne Sumner. He was at an open mic night when Anne played two songs which he really enjoyed and thought I would too. He was right.
When I heard that voice I was immediately stunned and wanted to hear more. Mark kindly said he would send me a copy of her album, and I said I would include the song he sent, These Hours, in the next show.
As it turns out, Anne had never had radio airplay of her songs before, she’d never submitted them as she was worried about rejection, so she was a little emotional when she heard the show with her song included
As soon as I heard the album I got in touch with Anne to ask if she would come up to Stockport so we could record a session with her. She agreed and in the November of 2016 we recorded a handful of songs – just voice & acoustic guitar.
As it turns out she’s a lovely person, we enjoyed each other’s company and it was a great session.
The thing that still stands out for me was the moment when she started singing. Aaron (my sound engineer) and I just looked at each other with our mouths open. By this point we had recorded 60 plus sessions for the show and had never heard a voice like it. And those songs…
Since then I have played numerous of her songs on the show, and I’m pleased that she has started getting airplay on other radio shows now too, including BBC Kent.
A few weeks back Anne announced she was releasing her new band album, Beacon, together with an acoustic album called Half-light. She invited me to the album launch at The Oval Tavern in Croydon, London. I said yes I’d go. It made sense to me for two reasons. First, she’d come up to Stockport for a session so I was returning the favour, and second, and I wanted to see her in a live setting.
To put this into perspective, Stockport to Croydon is over 200 miles. I only tend to go down to the big smoke once, maybe twice a year, to see people who are really important to me. I’d already booked to see Baaba Maal in April at the Union Chapel and I wasn’t expecting to go again this year. But I wasn’t going to miss this…
I managed to get to the venue early, which I always try to do – support acts are important. That was how I first discovered the music of John Smith back in 2007, supporting Davey Graham, but that’s another story.
After meeting up with Anne, being ushered to a seat that had been saved for me, tucking into stilton & broccoli soup with fish finger butties, and having a quick chat with Mark Flanagan and friends (Hi Adam..), it was time for the show to begin.
The first two musicians on stage were a father & daughter duo, Vicky Keohane on bodhran & vocals and Aidan on mandolin & banjo. Lovely renditions of jigs, reels & trad tunes and songs, including a quite stunning bodhran solo. Pleased I was early…
There was a short break and then Anne took the stage with members of her band. By her own admission, these were local musicians she respects a great deal and worked hard to get them on her recording and also to play live with her. They are all busy people…
Anne’s first set started with her, together with Vicky on bodhran, Maggie Casey on shruti box (then whistles) and Daniel Fitzgibbon on drums. At this point I need to say something about Daniel Fitzgibbon. Over the years I have heard numerous acoustic numbers destroyed by over eager, metronomic drumming. Not so here – Daniel was sympathetic, empathetic and rarely took his eyes off Anne. He is someone who understands that drums are an instrument like any other, and therefore have to be there for a reason, and have something to say within the framework of the song. Later on he also played bass at the same time as drums on a song (the original bass player went awol on the night) – never seen that before… Respect.
I have talked about Anne’s voice and songs at some length on various R&F shows, and will do again, I’m sure. Her voice has a weight, a timbre, that draws the listener in and the lyrics are written with such heart tearing honesty that it is almost impossible not to be drawn in to the point of crying.
With yet more variety, the second set started with a solo piano & voice musician by the name of Fabia, whose left hand was almost alien in it’s incredible reach… Anne then came on stage for a guitar & piano piece with Fabia before other members of the band re-appeared. There was also a really lovely sing a long part that the crowd enjoyed as well.
Which reminds me – I have been to many pub gigs, and invariably there is some ambient noise. People talking, clinking glasses, etc. On this night, in this venue, at this time, the audience was silent. Even the bar staff were stunned by this performance, and said so afterwards. Much credit to a wonderful artist who was obviously enjoying every minute up there…
I am now the very happy owner of both Anne’s new albums – a signed copy of Beacon and the other release, Half-light, which is, as she says, how the songs started life – just guitar or piano & vocal. I played them both all the way through when I got home, and I am not faced with the decision of not what to include in the next show, but what not to include. An Anne Sumner special is probably on the cards…
I really hope that Anne’s music reaches a much wider audience (you can help here people – listen to her music and then spread the word) and that she gets the recognition that she obviously deserves.
Anne Sumner – legitimately good music.