Charlotte Yates

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23 August 2017, Birdwoods Gallery, Havelock North

I’d never been into Birdswoods Gallery at night before, and first impressions were powerful: seeing the massive gum tree illuminated outside the small, perfect, old church building was breathtaking;  walking inside was like discovering a treasure trove. Objects of beauty all around, brightly lit, with a fire burning.  Kind of a ‘wow’ moment!

It was a small group gathered in the crisp, white conservatory, and as I walked in most folk were gathered around one table, deep in conversation with someone that I immediately recognized as Charlotte. It felt almost as if I was arriving at a private dinner party.

Soon after arriving things settled down and we were warmly greeted and introduced to Charlotte and her two supporting musicians, long time collaborator Gil Eva Craig and Show Pony.

A word came to mind very early on as Charlotte started to sing: clarity.  There is something very clear about Charlotte, her eyes, her warmth, her voice, her lyrics, they all have a crisp, clean clarity to them.  I was quickly enamoured. No dramatic lighting, no stage, so the feeling was very up-close and personal: Charlotte centre stage with her guitar, Gil sitting down playing the most beautiful acoustic bass and Show Pony on the other side with fiddle and trumpet.

Charlotte’s songs are lyrically very strong, each a poem waiting to be read, I was immediately eager to see the lyrics written so that I could digest them. I have to use the word again, but her voice has a clarity to it that is refreshing.  It’s a voice with a maturity and warmth that drew me into the words themselves.

The accompaniment was exquisite. Gil’s mastery of the bass was evident, subtly underpinning the delicacy of Charlotte’s six string. Show Pony’s fiddle added a playful liveliness whenever it joined in, and then she would pick up the trumpet and add joyous flourishes, but it was her skill as a backing vocalist that enhanced the songs most of all for me.  She has a serious vocal range, and the sensitive and careful use of her voice lifted the level of several songs into goosebump territory.

The first set was ten songs; stand-outs for me were her composition of a Hone Tuwhare poem ‘MAD’ and a new song ‘Light is Unreliable’ from her very recently released album.Charlotte’s songs are lyrically very strong, each a poem waiting to be read, I was immediately eager to see the lyrics written so that I could digest them.

In the second set, ‘Hold Your Heart’ was the moment in the evening that totally captivated me. Loving, gentle lyrics, a building guitar, and then Gil came in with her E Flat tenor Horn, joined by Pony’s trumpet … I have never thought of horns as subtle instruments, but the lightness and delicacy of the horns floating under Charlotte’s voice were so beautiful.

Fame is a fickle beast.  Charlotte deserves a higher profile than she has. These songs are so beautifully written, and the performance was deep, complex, crystal clear and flawless. The penultimate song ‘Hold Your Horses’ was such a quintessentially New Zealand song, it would fit comfortably alongside MacGlashan’s best.

As a measure of her impact on the audience something happened that I’ve never seen happen before at a gig: every single person in the audience bought a CD.  Says it all really.

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