St Mary’s Creative Space is an atmospheric place for live music. For anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure yet, it’s worth seeking out this redundant church turned concert/exhibition/event venue. A high ceiling and tall archways create an echoing acoustic, while stain glass windows flooded with red light set a moody ambience.
Chester based music promoter, Roman Candle, has wisely chosen it as their base for an alluring line-up of gigs featuring a unique list of artists. Most recently, an evening headlined by Becca Mancari, a Nashville-based singer-songwriter who was here as part of a month-long European tour of her debut album, Good Woman. And, a decent crowd assembled to hear her live – all quietly concentrating on the sounds as they ricochet around the stone brick walls.
Support acts, Katie Mac and Campfire Social are from closer to home – Liverpool and North Wales respectively. Katie opens the night seeming nervous, silently swapping guitars between songs and giggling a brief introduction while she’s delayed by a missing capo. Yet, once ready, she lets rip with a powerful, gravelly vocal performance that reverberates through the building – her final belting notes make even the gilded ceiling décor tremble.
A quick break to replenish cans of lager at the make-shift bar is followed by the lively songs of Campfire Social. At times, it feels almost as if the band has arrived in a friend’s front room to practice while we all hang out together, such is the informal banter. The intimacy of this small venue is an appealing feature of St Mary’s Creative Space and lends itself well to the evening.
As Becca Mancari walks onstage, the energy in the room shifts. She’s striking in red, standing under the central arch backed by scarlet lighting, and launches straight into the set. The audience is captivated by the impassioned melodies from the start, but it’s her witty and engaging conversation between songs that pull them in further – polite British applause being replaced by whoops and shouts for more by the end of the night. Looking around in wonder, she’s amazed to be performing in a 14th Century church building, and her revealing song introductions have an admirable honesty.
Rolling Stone describes the album as “hazy folk-rock”, and it’s got a distinct country influence. The songs have themes of loneliness, a transient life and failed relationships, and her haunting vocal builds an emotional atmosphere in the room. ‘Golden’ is the single track, but it’s ‘Long Way Down’ that lingers with me. She introduces it as a song inspired by escaping a dead-end job as a janitor for a building in a South Florida wasteland where alligators roam. Maybe it’s the curious story, or perhaps the lively guitar riff that resonates – but, I leave feeling I’ve got to know Becca a bit over the course of the evening, and I’m intrigued to hear more.
This was Roman Candle’s final event this year, but there’s plenty to look forward to in 2019. Highlights in January and February include Leila Moss and Cedric Burnside, who will no doubt be accompanied by other excellent support acts. See their website or Facebook page for more details.