Tonight Ian Stephenson brings his performance to the Sage, Gateshead; titled Modulate. I must admit I had visions of a man walking out with a barrage of instruments strapped around his body!

Supporting tonight is Kitty MacFarlane. Hailing from Somerset. MacFarlane takes to the stage.  Kitty is a charm, her voice can trigger ASMR with her tales of the Sargasso Sea and the journey of her favourite sea creature the Eel which inspires the track “The Glass Eel.” 

Kitty Macfarlane stops to talk about her next track, “Sea Silk.” Gold Sea Silk is from Sardinia, produced by a clam. It is then harvested and handspun.  Kitty recalls traveling to Sardinia after learning the sea silk story and meeting Chiara Vigo, who is thought to be the only person left who can harvest sea silk.  Kitty explains that when the silk is spun by Vigo (without harming the clam), it is in such a way that it shines and reflects like gold. This all inspiring the track “Sea Silk.”

My favorite aspect of folk is the translation, the telling of a story.  MacFarlane sings true to the Somerset tradition but adds more of her tapestry as she meets people along the way.  As a storyteller she is a charm, captivating her audience as she performs.  The last track of her performance was a real treat, a fantastic rendition of “Song For a Siren” by the late great Tim Buckley.

The interlude ends, and the stage is unlit, only the silhouette of the instruments can be made out of the darkness. Ian Stephenson then comes from the dark -with a sparkly pair of loafers that reflect beautifully across the audience.

As the light circles down to one point of the stage, casting a silhouette of Ian and his guitar, he starts to play.  The guitar is looped alongside matching visual mapping, the tracks build with the looping while Stephenson changes from guitar to melodeon with a snare beat.  Each loop is echoed with a different visual all centered around a square which in essence grounds the track.  At this point, I am literally leaning wide-eyed – trying to keep up!

The performance is almost like a sweet recipe, the ingredients being the instruments with a program outline set by Stephenson and his laptop. Ian then combines these,  playing an instrument, initiating a foot pedal and recording the first bars while looping them live onto the computer, all producing a beautifully layered sound. In doing so, he builds up a harmonic and rhythmic sound with the enchanting sound.

The visual element sets the mood of the sound, instruments glow as they are prepared to be picked up..  Stephenson works the moments of light and dark that fall upon the stage to the music he creates.

The compositions Stephenson has written for this score tell stories, one composition which was commissioned by a Swiss gentleman – who wanted a piece in an ode to his three daughters.  Stephenson recorded the melodeon in different keys denoting each individual daughter, bringing their story into sound. 

The final part of the Modulate performance brings both Ian Stephenson and Kitty MacFarlane together, giving another dimension lyrically. With Ian’s looping and Kitty’s harmonies enthralling an already well-pleased crowd.  The crowd tonight is inclusive of family, friends, and enthusiasts well versed in the capabilities of this accomplished musician.

Ian himself has a cheeky nature as he engages his audience with stories of how he became to where he is today. Talking compassionately, Stephenson talks about his long-time connections with The Sage to whom he is an associate, his influences both musically from folk, traditional music, jazz and to the many artists he has work/performed with all over the world.  Making a special mention to local musician and guitarist Ian Carr.

All in all, this was a truly great night,  the audience was able to become embroiled in live music in almost studio-like conditions; creating an atmosphere that emotionally evokes, with a complexity that would be lost if listening to pre-recorded.

Ian Stephenson and Kitty MacFarlane not only perform but teach in a way.  With an honest and transparent view of making music, it makes the non-musicals of the crowd want to play too!

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Disclosure: All Reviews have been provided by gifted opportunities or press access offered to us in return for an open and honest review. All reviews are subject to the opinion of the reviewer.

Reviewer – Carmichael – THE SLABCITY SHOW

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