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Live Reviews

W21 Music (November 2023)

In these darkened times it is hard to find "Reasons to be cheerful" however an evening spent in the company of Isabella Coulstock is certainly one of them. It's been a good few months since we last met, in the meantime Isabella has released two singles as well touring with The Who and Jools Holland. She has certainly fulfilled our prediction of being one to watch in 2023 yet there is so much more to do, tonight will only reconfirm our faith that she is perfectly poised to do it.

Taking to the stage with a big smile, that would hardly leave her face throughout the entire evening, Isabella welcomed us noting it was like we were all in her living room. Such is the crazy world that Isabella inhabits at the moment that she has gone from the enormous cavern that is the O2 to a rectangular room in Milton Keynes where the "light show" and we'll use that term loosely, consisted of a man doing little more than turning them on and off and switching the colour of the LED's to create an effect!.

Opening with "Nice Ain't A Good Colour For Me", there was strident guitar playing, the odd rock pose, superb singing and an air of supreme confidence. Some artists take a little while to warm up - Isabella was like a racehorse out of the stalls tonight and would not let standards slip for a second, no fillers to be found in this show, which would see the airing of some new songs, some new covers and a visit to a cover that she had inadvertently teased us with at our last meeting at The Green Note, only to then not go on and play it!. 

The first of the new songs arrived with "Smalltown Summer Feeling" , it immediately conjured up the warm summer nights once again where we could 

"do a little wrong and do a little right". It would see Isabella make one her many visits to the front of the stage as she played an instrumental break - there was almost a flamenco feel in her playing at times and a touch of Spanish in the lyrics. The next new song was the hopefully pre Christmas single "Love", which on first inspection seemed a somewhat bland title for a song however we should have had faith.

A tale of long distance relationships, it came with a gently picked guitar part, and lyrics so packed full of imagery that when the chorus ended on just the one word "Love" it seemed perfect. The art of making a brand new song sound like you have known it all your life is a rare talent yet one with which Isabella is abundantly blessed. If she had told us it was an old Carpenters B side we'd have happily believed her - it was immediately attention grabbing.

It was a case of going from future single to current single with "Broken", a return to the robust style of guitar playing that easily generated as much oomph as the full band does playing on the single and the vocal has just that little extra feeling. A move to the piano would see the first of the evenings impeccable covers, one the she had teased us with at The Green Note in soundcheck but then not played. Full kudos to Isabella for not just playing "Wichita Lineman" but also to name checking it's creator, Jimmy Webb, it was a nice touch and shows how seriously she appreciates other peoples songs. It is a copper bottomed song that would be hard to spoil, yet by any standards this version, slightly slowed down was sublime and somehow made it Isabella's - especially with her marvellously extended final note. What was even more amazing was how well her own composition "You Know You're Better Than That" nestled alongside the previous classic and matched it note for note in its brilliance.

A return to guitar would see another new song "The Break Up Song", it's a bit of a rite of passage song for female songwriters, both here and in Nashville, the art is being able to make yours different enough from anybody else's and Isabella has seemingly managed that. One of the joys of seeing Isabella is a chance to pick up her wonderful available "At gig only" cd, it is everything and more of what you get when you see her live and "Westerly Winds" her next tune is nestled away on it. Written with Jools Holland's guitarist Mark Flanagan, it is the most classic country vocal that Isabella will deliver throughout the evening and also will see her move to a Roy Orbison guitar style at times building the drama. Closing the first half of the night with "Revolution" she was able to get the audience to singalong with the merest "You know you want to" !! It was a soaring masterpiece on the night - and if she'd walked off stage and said "Good night" we'd have thought ourselves well entertained for the evening - yet this was only half time!!!

Returning from the break, Isabella not only resumed where she had left off but raised the bar higher. launching straight into "Who Do You Think You Are?", you'd have to be cold hearted not to be touched by the young lady in front of you baring her soul 

"I told you, I want you, I need you, I love you", ever the consumate professional, after all that drama the final note is just left hanging in in the air. One of the most reassuring moments of the whole evening was when Isabella asked if anyone had been there when she played the main room earlier in the year with Nell Bryden, and the cry from nearly the whole room was "Yes". Probably mainly on the strength of that one support slot she had virtually filled the room - which fills the old adage there are only 2 types of Isabella Coulstock fans, those that love her and those that haven't seen her yet!

#TEAMw21 have waxed lyrical about "The Riverside" before, tonight's version was again a classic, the hypnotic guitar line, the haunting lyrics the perfect delivery - it is a thing of such precious beauty, totally made up by Ms Coulstock. 

The variation of the evening would continue with another Coulstock/Jankel composition "The Road", with Isabella's guitar definitely taking on an Americana feel. More appreciation of other songwriters would come with tribute tof #TEAMw21 favourite Brandy Clark and a version of "Buried" . It was during "Fast" that the Stables crew felt emboldened enough to start a light show of differing colours! This was an evening where you could ask the audience to pick their highlight, and everyone could easily choose something different, "Borderline" with it's sad backstory is another piece of music that truly moves you. 

A final move to the piano would see "Living In A Country Song" followed by what many might be consider to be a bit of cheesy 80's ballad in Richard Marx's "Right Here Waiting". Yet listening to it stripped back the words seemed to leap to the forefront and seem more heartfelt. 

The closing sequence would take us into "Classic Coulstock Country" - the singalong of "Honky Tonk Beer" and back to the beginning of it all with "Crazy Cowboy" written as a 13 year old. An encore of "Jolene" finished off undoubtedly one of the finest nights of the year. We will certainly let our bet on Isabella roll on for another year "one to watch in 2023" - it will be a case of see how far she can go in 2024 - see her while you can!!

~ Americana UK

 

Tonight is Ms Coulstock’s first headliner, and it’s sold out. Her website shows a medley of highly laudatory recommendations from respected musicians, major festival heads and BBC Radio presenters and all single out her musicianship, singing ability, onstage presence and overall positivity. Having seen her previously supporting Hannah Aldridge at Putney’s Half Moon, your reviewer can happily endorse these views. And of course, it all stands out that bit more given her youth, she’s only 21. Anyone who has done a Bob Harris session at the age of 13 is either worth checking out or it’s Jimmy Osmond having wandered down the wrong corridor.

Her CV shows a gradual building up of live gigs and compulsory education was in the mix in her fledgling years. Her Music and English teachers clearly had something right and she commands the stage with an affable confidence that is always well short of arrogance.

She plays a 15-song set, nice and light on the between song banter but enough to provide context. Clearly by her very early teens her heart and mind were already set on a country/country rock musical career and so the songs have flowed ever since. It’s easy to question the authenticity of the Southern USA references from someone who has been almost entirely Kent based so far, but if a song is a fictitious narrative then that’s what the songwriter’s imagination is for. Not everyone who sings a murder ballad has the first hand lived experience, after all. There’s maybe a shared trajectory with early Ward Thomas, soaking up the Americana influences remotely in middle England and indeed new song ‘Your Kiss’ has a musical similarity to that duet’s early material. The mid-teen songs include ‘Outlaw’, a coursework item for her GCSE music which opens with “I killed my first man when I was sixteen,” and with guns, bounty hunters and the jailhouse in the lyric, it’s no surprise that she later mentions the inspiration of Johnny Cash. Meanwhile, ‘Living in a Country Song’ came to her whilst her mind wandered during a Physics exam.

She is primarily on guitar, but plays a handful of songs on piano. The set is further enriched when she is joined onstage by Chas Jankel (ex Blockhead), whose lead guitar polish makes ‘The Road’ a standout as the two guitarists spark off each other compellingly. An earlier solo highlight is ‘Riverside’, one of the more thought provoking lyrics of the night, in which the spirits of individuals who have shared a place, the titular riverside, later collectively reunite to pool their experience. The vocals do the heavy lifting on this song with great effect. ‘Who do you think you are?’ has her back at the piano for a slick power ballad. The encore is a Pablo Ettinger co-write (the Caffé Nero founder is a musician outside of the boardroom!), its big chords deployed as she sings out anthemically the call of impassioned youth. An appropriate sign off.

Without wanting to over-trumpet her prowess so soon, the sort of touchstones that came to mind were the belting voice of Brandi Carlile, the fine melodies of Shawn Colvin, the Southern bar room bant of Sunny Sweeney and the onstage command of the aforementioned Ms Aldridge.

 ~ W21 Music (May Headline Show)

 

It was only a few months ago that Isabella Coulstock graced this very stage and caused  #TEAMw21 to label her destined to be one of the faces of 2023, and nothing from tonights showing gives us any cause to doubt that prediction, as long as she actually gets round to releasing something - and then things might start to happen! It's hard to quite express just how assured a performer Isabella is , "Nice Ain't A Good Colour For Me" which opens the set, sees some of the most strident and confident guitar playing that you will see anywhere on the UK Americana circuit, male or female - she even found time while singing to quickly pose for a nearby snapper. 

 

Isabella's excellent guitar playing was to the fore once more on the Chaz Jankel co write "Broken" - as someone who got to see Chaz Jankel play with Ian Dury & The Blockheads - it only endears Isabella to us even more when she says "Everyone knows Ian Dury?" when he was sadly deceased before Isabella was born - "What A Waste!". For this one Isabella's strumming style is more akin to Billy Bragg - the vocals that accompany it are exceptional - the extended notes of the chorus are dealt with as if they are nothing to be bothered about. The other charming feature about watching Isabella is the look of sheer joy on her face as she plays - rarely have we ever seen someone so at ease and clearly enjoying themselves.

On her last showing at the Green Note, we made a big fuss about the song "Riverside", it is storytelling of the highest order with well rounded vignettes of characters. For this tune Isabella plays the most gentlest of guitar parts - overwhich she lays the most beautiful of vocals - truly moving. A quick relocation to the piano only once again reminded us of how multi talented she is - opening initially to a one handed intro on Who Do You Think You Are?" before going on to prove she was equally adept on piano as she was on guitar. The final chorus initially starting as a breathy a capella before building to a final climax that drew an audible "Wow" from an audience member enraptured by what he had just seen.

It was back to the guitar for "Fast" a driving getaway tune, before Isabella decided it was time for the Green Note to break out into song - starting "Honky Tonk Beer" a capella, to remind the crowd of its irresistible tune - once again Isabella's broad smile was infectious, her long hair swaying as she swiveled whist playing and sure enough, three minutes later - the Green Note was indeed a honky tonk with the whole room joining in. The set closed with the song written at the tender age of 13 - "Crazy Cowboy" - by all rights it should be a pastiche of songs Isabella was listening to at the time yet seven years later it still sounds great. Naturally there had to be an encore - and it came in the anthemic form of "Our Revolution" already sounding like it is ready to join "Don't Look Back In Anger" and "Angels" as one of the nations go to singalong tunes - it really is that good. Isabella's soaring voice sells the song magnificently and with the crowd joining in on its "Hey Jude " style finale.

 ~ Belles and Gals

There was a real buzz about the venue before Isabella took to the stage at around 8.30pm. I hadn’t seen Isabella play since quite a time before lockdown, an artist I had always thought had great potential. It’s clear now that you can lose the word ‘potential’, as she is simply now ‘great’. Watching Isabella play today is like watching a seasoned professional – she has an incredible stage presence and it’s clear that her experience in playing live so often means that she really knows how to work a crowd.

‘Who Do You Think You Are‘ was a particular highlight, which spotlighted both her vocal power and the keyboard playing of Isabella. ‘Riverside‘ was another one, a thoughtful tune about those reflective moments in life, a song that was met with a fantastic silence by the packed venue. ‘Honky Tonk Beer‘ was a great crowd pleaser, this time encouraging everyone to sing along, the atmosphere such that the crowd didn’t need much to persuade them. It was great to hear Isabella sing ‘Crazy Cowboy‘, a song that she wrote at the age of 13, which has been a staple part of her set ever since. Her set finished with the rousing ‘Revolution‘, an incredible ending to her set that had all the audience on their feet.

 

Ray Jones ~ CEO TB

A Star is Born?

 

We will have to wait to see, but whatever the answer to that question we had the privilege of presenting this young lady on Tuesday night and there was magic in the air. Isabella Coulstock at just 21 totally owned the occasion as she took to the Green Note stage for her first Headline London Show. There were Sold Out notices at the door and an audience that included top journalists, festival organisers and of course supportive family members.

 

The whole thing felt like a breakthrough moment - and that's so rewarding. The Music Business is a hard road to follow We just hope that we are creating valuable stepping-stones for at least some of the young independent artists of London. Go for it Isabella - and don't forget us when you open at Madison Square Garden !

 ~ W21 Music (November Headline Show)

Isabella Coulstock is in the position of probably having played to more people than many artists on the Americana scene via support slots with the likes of the Jools Holland Big Band, yet she remains one of the best kept secrets within her own genre - a tag she seems destined to shake, with an EP due early next year to be followed later by an album. She'd been on our watch list for some time when we finally got to see her do a short set at 229 earlier in the year and we were determined to be at her first solo headline show. All those support slots have given her a great stage presence, she looked completely at ease throughout the evening with a stage craft many would kill for. Looking magnificent with a bright smile which would not leave her face the whole evening - it was hard to believe that she has barely entered her twenties. Adept at both guitar and piano and with a voice as sweet as it is powerful, this was to prove to be a set of high quality with a little surprise or two.

 

Taking to the stage she immediately launched "Nice Ain't a Good Colour For Me", with some strident guitar playing and a tale of a bad girl on the run to "old time Mexico". It's a narrative created around a captured quote from the character Juliet Barnes in the series "Nashville". As the evening progressed, Isabella's furtive creations would show her to be able create songs with a wide range of topics. there was a mention of passing her driving test however the next song "Fast" was another example of forcefully played guitar on what seemed to be a song with a ready built pop country chorus, more of an illicit getaway with no hint of a mention of a three point turn! 

The inspiration behind "Borderline" was revealed to be the impending demise of her family dog - the song created from such a downbeat introduction was actually a thing of beauty, quite affecting with Isabella's phrasing at times sounding like someone who has grown listening to a Carpenters record or two. The delicately played guitar was matched by an equally exquisite vocal performance.

 

A move to the piano showed another side of Isabella - "Getaways" her piano playing was to be as strong as her guitar work, bold and confident. A tale of a potential illilcit fling, wrapped up in a beaufiful ballad. Followed by "Better Than That" about following your dreams, Isabella once again showed her talents with wonderful melodies and phrasing, delivered with a maturity far beyond her years.

 

It was back to the guitar for "Outlaw", showing Isabella to have a slight fixation with the wrong side of the law, but by using just a few well chosen lines she was quickly able to establish quite a dark narrative as to what had transformed her into a troubled lawbreaker. It was to prove to be quite a compelling tale. A new song "Your Kiss" once again showed Isabella to be able to produce a pure pop country chorus seemingly at will.

If there was one song that was to exemplify just what a special talent Isabella is then it was "Riverside", introduced with a slightfully odd concept of a scenario whereby a piece of land, by a river where people go to lay their troubles down, somehow retains their spirits which then meet throughout the passing years. At first it may sound a little kooky yet within seconds you are entering into Isabella's masterful creation and it becomes reality, the spirits almost appearing before your very eyes created with nothing more than a well turned, yet vividly evocative phrase or two, 

 

"I am a soldier just passing through, i lay my burden down and I will wait for you

I am a simple girl with nothing left to lose I won't decide my fate I'll leave it up to you"

 

Other characters join them, a stranger, a child throwing stones, a preacher who has lost his faith and a dying old man - the song is satisfyingly wrapped up and Isabella is able to dissolve this world as quickly as she created it. 

 

As the set progressed it was amzing that even though the majority of the songs were new to #TEAMw21 they sounded like old favourites we had loved for years, such is Isabella's control over melodies and her ability to create a power chorus seemingly at will. Continuing a theme of the evening, of getting away "Run" came equipped with one of those aforementioned choruses that should work well when worked up into a full band song.

 

It was back to the piano with a one handed intro into "Who Do You Think You Are?" which built up quite an intense atmosphere with the outpouring of emotion. Isabella's outlook is so refreshingly different, her ideas take her off into strange tangents and so not wanting to be in a physics exam, led to wanting to be anywhere else, which then led to the wondrous "Living In A Country Song" which placed Isabella in a world of chevvys and mustangs.

At 229 Isabella had mentioned co writing with Chaz Jankel, once charged with placing music to Ian Dury's lyrics and a successful writer in his right if you've heard either his or Quincy Jones versions of "Ai No Corrida", now here he was graing the stage of the Green Note with his electric guitar. Their song "The Road" saw Chaz adding delicate guitar lines under Isabella's soaring vocals, that seemed to take the whole evening to another level of magnificence - the finale saw Isabella's vocals swirling around the Green Note. A second song "Broken" initially was equally as atmospheric, Isabella injecting urgency with her guitar playing while Chaz's guitar work on the chorus was equally sublime - an album of songs like this would do very nicely thank you!

 

Isabella would finish the set solo, firstly with the irrisistable chorus of "Honky Tonk Beer", certainly the Green Note audience could not resist clapping and joining in on a song which you find yourself still humming days later, before closing out with "Crazy Cowboy" written at the tender age of 13 showing even then Isabella had a firm grasp of a punchy chorus.

 

There was time for a final encore with "Revolution" co written with an onlooking Pablo Ettinger, it was a wonderfully anthemic way to close out proceedings and all bodes well for 2023 - the hardest bit is surely going to be how Isabella and her Management team are going to whittle down the choice of available material into one album - make no mistake she will be one of the faces of 2023. 

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