SHE’S a regular at Nettlebed Folk Club and has just — last night — launched a
SHE’S a regular at Nettlebed Folk Club and has just — last night — launched a new EP with her friend and musical collaborator Jackie Oates, but when was the last time Henley’s Megan Henwood played her home town?
You have to go back to June last year, when Megan, her brother Joe and mum Lucie put on the Music for Nepal benefit concert at the Kenton Theatre.
The event was a sold-out success and was followed a month later by the release of Megan’s second album, Head Heart Hand — the follow-up to 2011’s Making Waves.
Making waves is a fair summary of what she’s been up to over the past year. The album was critically lauded — Q magazine awarded it four stars and folk bible Fatea called it “sublimely understated”, while the Henley Standard’s reviewer noted the “laid-back authority” of the songwriting.
Seven years on from Megan and her brother winning the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award, it seems her career remains on a decidedly upward trajectory.
Midway through September she is due to fly out to Nashville — the spiritual home of country music — to take part in a songwriting retreat. She’s not at liberty to reveal who she will be working for, but says it is someone she has written for previously.
And before that? Oh yes, the small matter of her first “hometown” gig in over a year.
The covered beer garden at Lovibonds brewery in Market Place, which can be accessed from the Greys Road car park, is the venue for the show on Saturday, September 3.
As with the Wings EP that Megan and Jackie Oates have just released on Dharma Records, the concert is a collaboration — this time with her brother.
Joe, who is 23 to Megan’s 28, is well known locally as a musician in his own right. He also runs Henwood Studios at Oakley Wood near Wallingford with his business partner Pete Brown and works part-time at Henley Theatre Services in Station Road, where his boss is another Joe — Joe Morris.
Which is how the idea for the Lovibonds gig came about.
Says Joe: “I’ve been working for them for a year in the warehouse and I do front-of house sound engineering and stuff. They’re a really cool, growing business that supply everything from private parties up to — they were doing the other two stages at Rewind all weekend. It’s a big sound system.
“Me and Joe — since I’ve been working there we’ve decided we want to put some nights on around Henley. I mean, really, we want to aim for putting on a festival at some point.
“That’s going to be years down the line, but what we want to do in the meantime is put some gigs on. I don’t want to say too much about it at this stage but we’re hoping to put a Christmas gig on as well. And then basically one every quarter — that’s what we want to do.”
As well as promoting the Lovibonds show in the guise of his “Bamboozle Productions” partnership with Joe Morris, Joe will also be performing on the evening — first as a DJ and then as a member of his sister’s live band.
He says: Megan rarely gets the opportunity to play the full band set-up. I mean, on her album is a vast number of musicians, but the band for this night will be Pete Thomas on bass, Tom Sibly on drums, myself on percussion, sax and guitar — and then this incredible cellist, Matthew Forbes.”
As Joe explains, he and Megan regularly perform together at pubs and other venues in the Henley area — but not necessarily with the focus on their own material.
“Meg’s a well-known name around Henley,” he says. “She plays quite a few covers gigs — I was with her at the Three Tuns the other night — and often I find when I do covers gigs with her she plays a few of her tunes and they go down better than the rest of them. So I’m really excited to put her on in Henley for a full hour and a half set with all her original material and with the rest of the band.”
Despite his relative youth, Joe is clear-eyed about what it takes to make a living from music.
Speaking to the Henley Standard last year ahead of his appearances at the Brakspear Jazz and Blues Festival, he mused on the balance he strikes in his working life.
“I’m very content but also I’m very realistic about the industry that I’m in,” he said. “Which is, you know, not massively realistic for a lot of people to make a living out of making original music.
“There’s a lot of people making music which is great, which is exciting — I love being part of a really big community and there’s lots of people, but it’s very hard for anyone to make a full living out of it. But I take that and I don’t let it get the better of me of and be negative. So I enjoy the fact that I do lots of different jobs.”
Concert promoter, then, is just the latest addition to Joe’s CV — or will be come September 3.
The Lovibonds event runs from 5pm to 11pm, with support from a number of DJs and local singer-songwriter Katie Moberly, who Joe calls “highly talented”. He adds: “Katie performs honest, abstract songs accompanied by her fresh style of ukulele playing.”
Looking ahead to the evening as a whole, Joe says: “The vibe we’re going for, because we’re aiming for a festival eventually, is we want to kind of have that ethos at the start.
“So, you know, it opens at five and there’ll hopefully be some sunshine and loads of really nice food there — barbecue — and, you know, tunes on straight away.
“And we’re going to be building a really good stage. We’re doing it in the garden, so we’re hoping to get everybody standing out in the garden — that sort of stage.
“You can get a couple of hundred people in the garden and we’re building the stage out there, with barbecues and stuff. We’ll have marquees if it rains.”
Sounds as though the two Joes have got everything covered.
As for Megan, who in the last two weeks has played the Crooked Billet in Stoke Row and St Pancras Old Church in London with Jackie Oates and Pete Thomas, she’s clearly relishing the prospect of her Henley homecoming.
“She said: “It’s basically the band I recorded the album with. I’m playing in November and December in Oxford solo, but it’s rare that I play with the whole band. It’s rare that I would play with the band anywhere but I’ve never done a kind of hometown gig — not with the band.”
The website for the September 3 show says Megan will be performing songs from both her studio albums, together with a few as yet unreleased tracks.
She confirms that once she returns from Nashville she will be going into the studio to start recording her new album, which is due for release next year.
In terms of her studio output, Megan contributed one of her recent compositions to the five-track Wings EP with Jackie Oates, on which bassist Pete Thomas also features.
The EP’s title comes from a haunting cover of What’s the Use of Wings by Artisan singer-songwriter Brian Bedford. Also covered are Love Vigilantes by indie legends New Order and Ghosts by contemporary folksters Lau.
She said: “I think the only original one is my song Bettystown, but Setting of the Sun is a traditional tune that Jackie’s reworked and rearranged — I think so beautifully. She’s great at making a song her own and putting her own stamp on it.
“Ghosts by Lau is a very, I think, poignant song, especially with the current things that are happening in the world. Both Jackie and I, as soon as that album [The Bell That Never Rang] came out, which was only last summer, and Jackie and I were living together for a bit, we just couldn’t stop listening to that song, so it was kind of a no-brainer to include it on this record.”
Tickets for Megan Henwood at Lovibonds are £13 in advance and £15 on the door. To book, go to www.bamboozlepresents.co.uk