I have been writing gig reviews for more than 30 years, but always from notes taken at the time which act as memory joggers, so this is the first time I have ever written a full review while the concert itself is still taking place! With the current restrictions in New Zealand, and in many other places in the world, live music has stopped overnight as gatherings are not allowed. Originally on this date South African-born Lee Martin was supposed to be playing a gig with her full band, and as that wasn’t possible, she decided instead to host a gig from her house. It felt intimate, and very special, yet she also ensured the sound was going to be as good as possible, utilising her normal PA and mix so her vocals had just a touch of reverb and bounce. I soon realised I needed to find some way of capturing what was taking place so out came the laptop and I am watching the gig on my TV, writing the review as it goes.
By the time it started there were already more people viewing than she expected to attend, and with the help of a glass of red wine she took us on a journey. We started with “Thinking About You”, the lead track from her ‘Lost Girl’ EP which came out last year, which really set the mood. This was followed by a new song, “When I Was Still At Home”, which talks about her emotions at being away from her family as she now lives in New Zealand, and about a lucid dream where she thought her recently departed grandfather was in her room talking to her. As with all her songs, there is a backstory and she made a point of telling us these which adds so much to the experience.
“What If I Die?” is about living your life to the fullest, and not having regrets. Lee has always wanted to see Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and visiting Italy and the Greek Islands, and she started to think she might never achieve those things if she didn’t organise them. So earlier this year she actually booked the flights to make her dream a reality. Of course, they have now been cancelled but at least she tried 😊. Lee has a very warm and welcoming style, and her friendly and engaging manner combined with her clear and strong vocals means she is a singer-songwriter who the audience warm to immediately, even if they don’t know the material.
“That’s How It Goes” is far slower, sung in a lower register, much darker and I was immediately reminded of Johnny Cash. “Brave Train” is more upbeat, all about doing the right thing when the time comes. Given the only feedback she was getting were from comments on the Facebook page, Lee was performing as if there was a live crowd in front of her, interacting with comments between songs but without losing the flow of the performance itself. It really did feel like Lee was performing just for each viewer, but without any of the awkwardness which comes when you are sat in the front row of a plane and unable to see the safety video to the stewardess does a presentation just for those three people.
“Whiskey and Red Wine” is another song from the EP and is about a very personal experience from Lee when she was attacked at night and is how she got through it with the love and support of her family and friends. Another slowie, quite country in many ways, it moves around in tempo and feel, as Lee shares yet more emotion. “I Miss You” is her latest song, literally only finished the day of the gig. This is quite different in approach, almost a rock number played on acoustic, with vocals quite breathy and quiet, packed with emotion, just coming to the fore during the bridge and chorus.
“I Can’t Wait Forever” apparently works better when everyone is drinking and swaying, and works much better with a full band, and is another Cash-inspired slow number full of emotion and heartbreak. This was one of the highlights for me, as it really takes the listener into different world, where the guitar and voice, especially the voice, are all that matters.
“Finally Going My Way” is about balancing dreams and personal life, and how friends can be lost while dreams are pursued. Another slower number, with Lee singing in a lower register, she somehow comes across with an American accent, which given she is from SA is not what one expects. But this number soon wakes up, and we get some Joplin-style power. Americana rock, all performed with just vocals and an acoustic. “Kiss My Lips” was originally supposed to be the final number and is a love song as one would expect from the title, but again feels very personal and that Lee is singing to each individual. She then started taking requests, and first up was “Head On My Shoulders”, one of her older numbers and one I hadn’t heard before. This one is upbeat and bouncy, and given she hadn’t played it in years and certainly not rehearsed, sounded mighty fine indeed.
“Lost Girl” was the title of last year’s excellent six-track EP and is probably the slowest number performed tonight. Packed full of emotion it contains many long-held notes and there is no room to hide if a singer can’t maintain pitch, but there is never a problem for Lee who really shines when she gives her voice the room to swell. “I Know You’re Sleeping” is another old one I hadn’t previously come across, a love song written when she was living in New York and her boyfriend was back in South Arica. There were loads of comments coming into the thread, with more and more requests, so Lee kept extending the set, with the next song being “Thunderstorm”, one which Lee wasn’t convinced she would be able to remember more than a verse and chorus as it was so long since she had played it. All about finding the right man to dance with her in the rain, it is more upbeat than many, and yet again once she got into it the memories kicked in and she made it all the way through with no issues. We even got a snippet of a song she wrote in Afrikaans which originally appeared on the Southern Soul ‘Package’ album in 2006, before finally getting to the end of the set with “A Way Out Of Here”, again from the ‘Lost Girl’ EP.
There were many requests for “Hallelujah”, a song she plays in her covers sets, which she very much makes her own with sumptuous vocals. She finally finished what was supposed to be an hour-long set, with a repeat of her very latest song, “I Miss You”. 100 minutes just swept past, and lock down all of a sudden didn’t seem so bad
And to see the gig yourself,