One of the joys of SongSmith has always been to track and be a part of the development of an artist, usually as an observer and event organiser, but sometimes up a little closer. So, I declare an interest. Sharon and I have known each other for ten years and become I like to think good friends. We have also occasionally collaborated on small projects, and she has been a regular performer at SongSmith since we first met at Mr Wolf’s on 17th October 2011. She was then one half of Lazibyrd, a folk duo with Tom Chapman as guitarist.
I was first aware of her music from ‘I’m Alright Jack’ which was getting a lot of attention at grass roots and strong reviews. I forget which platform it was on. I think it was the first track, submitted for a spot at our Monday night weekly shows. It’s darned catchy. A simple folk song with a sing-along chorus that dominates the song. Almost too catchy. Almost too dominant. Contrary bastard that I am I decided to listen to a couple more. I almost never refused a spot and had no intention of doing so now but I was not immune to a touch of ‘so what’s all the fuss about’. It was the other songs that interested me more I seem to recall. There was a rawness to the music, almost a naivety. I went back to ‘Jack’ for a second listen having been drawn in by the other songs. As with a lot of promoters I will rarely listen to more than one track and sometimes not even that much! I just needed to know that the artists I was putting on wouldn’t drive people away and that they could put a song and set together. In 13 years I made one mistake. I turned down only 2 bands. Everyone deserved their day for a 45-minute spot to showcase their work. (Though the avant-garde Italian duo, sax and percussion did get me into a spot of bother with the bar manager one particular night).
Anyway, back to Sharon, I was clearly intrigued. Not least because a second listen of Jack emphasised the political nature of the song. A hook and a hook. And the sort of politics I identified with. Sharon had the lion’s share of the songwriting and with her sharp mind, wit and intellect, her lyrics were always an integral part of the process, but damn she could write a catchy tune too.
Lazibyrd played again in 2012 and in 2013 were an integral part of our Rugby League World Cup events and promotion. Sharon was developing as a songwriter and the new material which had formed the basis for the first album, ‘Under The Sky’ was already being surpassed. Jack was there of course and the fabulous ‘Fog On the Water’ with ‘The Little Things’ now forming a poignant bookend to the new single ‘Scrolling Back’. The songs being written would form a new chapter but in 2013 Sharon, Tom and I were in the LA (Long Ashton) studio of Paul Whitrow, The House of Dreams indeed. They had agreed to record one of the new songs ‘Half Shame, Half Glory’ which fitted our RLWC compilation album. The basic tracks laid down it was time for Sharon’s violin solo. Tom and Paul had the spare headphones so I was just listening to the solo audio of Sharon’s violin live. That tingle came that I treasure. It was an extraordinary piece of playing. It put me in mind of the playing of Fripp where you kind of know that what he is hearing in his head is not what you are hearing. Sharon was marching to that different drum. It deepened my respect for her craft, playing and writing, though the signposts from ‘Under The Sky’ in playing such as ‘Run To The Dawn’ or ‘There She Goes’ were definitely there. Listen, if you doubt me. It’s there on Bandcamp.
Touring, music and the life outside took their toll. Lazibyrd ended and Sharon became a solo artist. A gap ensued. Though the songwriting continued and study at Bath Uni underpinned the development of the new sound.
The first solo material was a couple of singles each in both 2016, and 2017, all of which would form the backbone of the solo album ‘Half Shame, Half Glory’. Some how losing half the band had led to a fuller sound, and a real step up in vocal development as well as consolidation of the songwriting skills. Throughout this period Sharon was catching the eye of several key figures, notable Tom Robinson on 6 Music and the grand master of folk / country Mr Whisperer himself Bob Harris. The demands of life outside still prevented a full time assault on a music career. However there was considerable praise for the music and a warm reception in the South West and beyond. She is also brilliant at getting airplay one the sporadic bouts of publicity!
Fast forward to lock down and a difficult time in her personal life which is alluded to clearly in the new single ‘Scrolling Back’.
With lockdown came the end of SongSmith and live gigs for me I was fortunate enough to share with Sharon and many others a wonderful online songwriting group. Now as a peer songwriter my admiration for her as a performer and songwriter deepened, and yes as a human being too. The creativity and depth was also reflected in her voice. Her singing had sometimes had a fragile quality to it but now deepened and became stronger, almost paradoxically as the vulnerability was expressed in her songwriting the singing became more powerful. The lovely catch and waver remained but the resolve and confidence seemed to grow.
I have been privileged to listen to early versions of some of the delights still to come. The first of these, ‘Scrolling Back’ is available now. We’re all in for a treat.