Taking a vow; Chastity is all she’s cracked up to be

Ok, I admit it. I didn’t know who she was.

When Live Theatre asked me to review Chastity Brown’s gig, on Friday 20 September, I had to look her up. Roots and Americana, and mostly good; seemed to be the view of the world-wide-web. Well, fellow post-gig bloggers, you are masters of understatement. Chastity was exceptional.

But let’s come back to Miss Brown, and her Western Tennessee musical wonders, in a minute.

First we need to praise one of our own. Well, almost our own. Beccy Owen lived on Tyneside for more than a decade, earning a fine reputation as a singer-songwriter. Although she’s since left us, she hasn’t forgotten Newcastle and will be launching her latest album Imago here in December. Beccy epitomises the best of British folk…err jazz…err pop? Truthfully, her music moves satisfyingly between styles.

If you like lilting melodies that roll into staccato riffs, vocals that move easily from angelic to rasping, and a performer that rides emotions to crescendo, then Beccy won’t let you down. As support to Chastity’s headline, she relaxed us with gentle wit and seduced us to think in metaphor. She complained of suffering a cold. It didn’t show. This was another quality set by an accomplished performer, but still, she advised we wouldn’t have to touch her to buy her CDs. Fittingly there was a queue at her stall in the interval. Make sure you check out her Sponsume page here.

Owen opened the gig by telling us we looked “languid” and, by the time Chastity Brown quietly approached the stage, we pretty much were. The venue played its part. Live Theatre’s studio, with its nests of cabaret tables and that sloping roof, is a civilised place to listen to music. An easy room with an intimate ambiance where Chastity, and her musical sidekick deVon Gray, seemed at home.

Don’t worry deVon you get some nice words shortly (I know he’s wondering. He just Tweeted this week “swears I wasn’t fishing”…uh-huh). But Chastity has to take top billing. Not because her name was on the gig flyer, because her music is among the best I’ve heard in a long, long – did I say long yet? – time.

Tall, with an impressive kinky afro half-hidden under a scarf and a laid-back style, Chastity didn’t so much perform as converse. “Every story is valid” she said. Every song had a story to tell, and in the pauses between them she told her own story. First guitar at 15; mother worked fingers to the bone; men with guns; and why she called her current album Backwards Highways (buy it, find out). Then, from within that calm exterior a voice of power came out punching.

There were folk numbers, a little soul, some Southern tunes that rocked your knees, and at least one that could be a chart success with a little additional production. Although, given her subject matter, I’m not sure platinum discs are Brown’s ambition. She picked and strummed through a landscape of working people, wafting the smell of Southern American porches into Newcastle. Chastity’s sense of cultural and social heritage is rich, and her music is all the better for it.

At track three she asked; “y’all ok with the blues?” What she played next…phew! That’s when the gig really took off. If I confessed I didn’t know anything about her before this gig, I have to admit that at that moment I made an instant vow to tell everyone about Chastity Brown.

…and deVon Gray too, of course. The pianist-percussionist provided expert accompaniment. To Chastity’s bass drum pedal, deVon added snapping fingers, palm claps, shakers, heel kicks, comedy quips and atmospheric keys, giving the whole event a much bigger personality.

Personality! That’s the word I’ve been searching for.

This was a gig with personality busting from the seams. So much personality that some of it spilled out of Live Theatre’s upstairs room into the night life of Newcastle. Check out deVon’s story about the post-gig pub crawl at dvrgmusic.tumblr.com. Unlike the post-gig revellers I didn’t do my sharing out in the Toon. I’m doing it now and living out my vow…

…hey, have you heard about Chastity Brown? Well, you should.

By Ben Dickenson
September’s Guest Blogger


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