St. Mary’s Church, Totnes
Saturday, 14th October 2023
Jo Beth Young returned to Totnes for the first time in over four years (when she performed under the name ‘Rise’ and followed the previous year’s concert as ‘Talitha Rise & The Abandoned Orchestra’), with her Shadow Navigation Show, enchanting the audience in the beautiful surroundings of St. Mary’s Church. She has combined with the fascinating artist Serious Child in a show where they perform with each other in two different sets, utilising the same band.
The first set focused on Serious Child (“my parents called me… ‘Serious’…”), who warmly entertained with songs filled with ‘stories about real people’, punctuated with gentle humour. Serious Child was joined by Jo Beth Young on a variety of instruments, including guitar, keyboards, recorder and bodhran. Serious Child’s rich and versatile voice fit the differing moods of his songs. Opener The Oak and Brambles were drawn from his 2020 album Time in the Trees and were real highlights, with Ben Roberts particularly outstanding on Brambles, producing a range of unusual sounds from his cello. Jo Beth Young provided some lovely harmony vocals for a new song that’s due to appear on his next album, and Serious Child seemed equally adept on guitar, keyboards and the rather unusual Harmonium.
As Serious Child performed his set, one got the feeling that this was an artist who was openly sharing some of his most significant memories, especially the very personal memory of his Dad who made a ritual of always playing Ol’ Man River on a record player before Sunday dinner. His words and music somehow transported us back to that childhood dining room as he fondly remembered his father. Music can do so much to evoke vivid memories. In a similar manner, Three Hail Marys told the story of his family’s excommunication from the Church… it’s too a long story for this review – just go and hear it for yourself if you can!
The Lockdown experience for four people was imaginatively conveyed in Talk about the Weather, reminding us of that strange feeling of isolation and the dislocation felt by many. As we came towards the end, Serious Child’s most impactful song came with Light a Candle. This was inspired by his brother, Dave, who has lived in Ukraine for the last 16 years and drives relief convoy trucks. Serious Child shared that Dave has lost an eye in the conflict due to shrapnel, but he still bravely drives those trucks. This impelled Alan (Serious Child’s real first name) to write a song to raise money for the aid charity in honour of Dave. This was really a song about faith, so a church was a perfect setting. The final upbeat and humorous song, Turn the Music Down, about the experience of artists being told to ‘get a real job’, showed that Serious Child is not always serious. Peter Lamb was excellent on guitar, as were all the musicians in this outstanding first half to the show.
Time Keeps Rolling
As Good As It Gets
Three Hail Marys
Talk About The Weather
Light A Candle
Turn the Music Down
Serious Child – Vocals, Keyboards, Acoustic Guitar, Harmonium
Jo Beth Young – Vocals, Keyboards, Recorder, Bodhran, Guitar
Ben Roberts – Cello
Pete Lamb – Electric Guitar
Jo Beth Young started the second half somewhat surprisingly, processing down the aisle chanting Yahweh – Fear a Bhata, in a powerful opening, ‘invoking the many names of the Lord’ in different languages. Jo Beth explained the idea behind the ‘Shadow Navigation’ shows, the tour’s name coming from one of her early song, inspired by the much more sinister original tale of Cinderella, which features a beautiful benevolent creature who follows Cinderella to keep her safe (Disney, it ain’t!). Jo Beth imagined that creature as a fox in Shadow Navigation, which comes across evocatively in this imaginative song. The story songs, Jo Beth shared, are inspired from a range of sources, such as Radio Silence based on watching 24 Hours in Police Custody (!) to Chapel Bell, a beautifully poetic re-telling of the story of The Little Match Girl. Chapel Bell was taken from her great 2018 album An Abandoned Orchid House (when she presented as Talitha Rise) and she later performed the beguiling Twisted Tree from the same release.
Jo Beth used to live in very nearby Dartington, and she shared that she wrote Chapel Bell while she lived there. Totnes is clearly a significant place for her. The songs described other creatures, such as Rabbit Eyes (with a delightful xylophone effect keyboard from Jo Beth). She later explained to me that this was about a rabbit which died in her arms on a walk after being bitten by a stoat, which made her think how short life is for us all. Eerily distorted cello and a harder edged guitar characterised the haunting Wolf Song but ended with a smile as the audience attempted to mimic Ben Roberts’ wolf howl!
Jo Beth concluded the evening telling her very personal story of becoming a ‘born again’ Christian, following a revelatory experience in the Sacred Heart Chapel at Buckfast Abbey when she was suffering the broken heart of unrequited love. This story of enlightenment and personal redemption was related with real openness, and one felt the love and happiness Jo Beth clearly emanates as a result of this change in her life. For those that may feel a little uncomfortable with the religious element, it is important to emphasise that Jo Beth did not convey her story and feelings in a ‘preachy’ or proselytising manner. It just felt that this was really important to her and she wanted to share how she felt. Consequently, she sang the inspirational Oceans, a cover of a song by a Christian band called Hillsong. The way Jo Beth and the band played that inspirational song felt like a perfect way to finish this lovely gig in a church.
In truth St Mary’s felt a little bracing that evening, but Jo Beth Young and Serious Child intuitively warmed us with entertaining and insightful songs from their hearts. They skilfully interchanged instruments all night long, and similarly, within the spiritual venue, they seemed to weave magical musical spells.
If you get the chance, navigate your way to seeing these great artists in action as they continue their Shadow Navigation tour around the UK and Ireland.
SETLIST – Jo Beth Young
Yahweh – Fear A Bhata
Oceans (Hillsong Cover)
Jo Beth Young – Vocals, Keyboards, Recorder, Bodhran, Acoustic & Electric Guitars
Serious Child (Alan Young) – Vocals, Keyboards, Acoustic Guitar, Harmonium
Ben Roberts – Cello & Wolf Howl (!)
Pete Lamb – Electric Guitar