Reviewed by Angelica Campion

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The refurbished Palace public house at the America Ground on Hastings seafront has a large parlour in the back where they have Americana nights reflecting the taste of patron Bob Tipler. The stage is a bit high and reminiscent of a village hall but the room has a good vibe.

The Emma Harwood band was supported by Felix Holt (his parents named him after a George Eliot novel) and his band, an accomplished songwriter in the style of country folk-rock. His feel-good music was a great start.

Mysteriously for a pub, clouds of dry ice wafted over the audience like mustard gas, but since some of them looked old enough to have fought the Germans the first-time round, it felt kind of appropriate. Emma Harwood is a young woman so maybe they came to see her bass player Colin Gibson who has had a really long career being very busy & influential. After reading his wiki page I needed to have a lie down.

A tad unsure of herself at the beginning, Emma’s freshly washed hair didn’t take long to dry! Her voice is pitch perfect and her personality, winning and self-effacing. With memorable authentic tunes she sounds surprisingly similar to Emmylou Harris. Emma’s lyrics are more generic than personal but this is no bad thing since overly-personal lyrics can make an audience run for the hills (the bar).

Accompanied by the afore-mentioned Mr Gibson, Keith Osborn (off of the legendary Funking Barstewards) on pedal steel, Emma’s brother Andrew (Vince Powers’ fave guitarist) and the multi-talented Greg Bishop on drums, you know a singer will be good when she’s managed to attract this lot for her first gig in 3 years.

Really, Emma should be writing for talon-clad female country superstars in America but I’m guessing that she’s just too bloody nice to big herself up and elbow past others to go in that directemma2ion.

So, at the risk of this sounding like a restaurant review; I was there with friends, one of whom is a chart topping songwriter and he sat through the whole thing without moaning which is most unlike him. There were quite a few of Hastings’ many esteemed musicians, just having a night out.

Emma’s performance was summed up by one such person, Kevin Armstrong (Iggy Pop’s guitarist apparently) leaning on the bar afterwards, who said that a really good singer is one who still sounds amazing from the next room.

Go to the Palace if you’ve not yet discovered it. They do really good food and the beer and wine are great. Watch out going downstairs to the loo if you wear heels and have had too much to drink or if you’re in any way disabled or use a bus pass. There’s no handrail.

And go and see this lovely girl with a lovely voice wherever she plays next.

Emma Harwood & Felix Holt are appearing at:

Upstart Crow songwriters festival Spitalfields Sunday 1st October