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Week of the songwriter

Several successful practitioners of the songwriting art head for Tyneside over the next few days and a couple of them - Thea Gilmore and Erin McKeown - call at The Sage Gateshead tonight as part of an extensive UK tour.

Several successful practitioners of the songwriting art head for Tyneside over the next few days and a couple of them - Thea Gilmore and Erin McKeown - call at The Sage Gateshead tonight as part of an extensive UK tour.

Later in the week, one of Ireland's finest makes a couple of local calls and then Canada provides the guests at the Cluny towards the end of the week. Two rising folk combos and a couple of distinctive and contrasting guitarists make up this week's complement.

Oxford, home to Radiohead and Supergrass, produced another significant performer when a teenage Thea Gilmore emerged in 1998 with her debut album, Burning Dorothy.

Significant because Gilmore is probably the most acclaimed UK female songwriter since Kate Bush, who released her debut single just a year before Thea was born.

Her 2003 album, Avalanche, proved to be her breakthrough recording and she subsequently toured the US with Joan Baez.

She has become a mother since her last visit to the region but that's not her only recent issue. The latest CD, Harpo's Ghost (Sanctuary Records), has received the usual plaudits from the music Press and includes contributions from the Waterboys' Mike Scott.

Opening the show is another independent spirit, Erin McKeown, from Fredericksburg, Virginia. McKeown is a couple of years younger than Gilmore and already up to album number five with her current release, Sing You Sinners (Nettwerk Records).

The typically intrepid cross-genre artist has chosen pre-Second World War popular songs as the basis for the album.

The Sage also has a double helping of (predominantly) Scottish folk when the celebrated trio Lau - Kris Drever, Aidan O'Rourke and Martin Green team up with the hot young five-piece Malinky. Lau's debut release is issued this week and is likely to receive the same kind of reception (i.e. very good) that Kris Drever's solo, Black Water, attracted a few months ago.

Next Thursday, Limerick lad Mick Hanly plays the Tyneside Irish Centre in Gallowgate but he is also the guest of Cramlington folk club on Tuesday.

Hanly once worked for the electricity supplier in Galway but played the acoustic repertoire of Woody Guthrie and Paul Simon, among others, in his spare time.

He was later attracted to the rock scene and he decided to forego the solo route, albeit briefly, when he replaced Christy Moore in the folk-rock band Moving Hearts.

Fortunes changed when his song Past the Point of Rescue, was recorded by Mary Black on her No Frontiers album - a huge success, particularly in Ireland - and the same song was also chosen by Nashville-based country star Hal Ketchum.

The latter ensured that the song reached thousands of country music stations across the US and made it an instant classic and elevated Hanly in the songwriter stakes.

THE same night, Gateshead's Little Theatre has what amounts to a Canadian all-star band when Blackie & the Rodeo Kings are the guests.

The key riders in this Rodeo are Colin Linden, Stephen Fearing and Tom Wilson and all three are renowned solo artists/writers and performers. Linden is also one of the most sought-after producers in Canada. A blues fan from an early age, he was 11 years old when he met the great Howlin' Wolf, whose advice to his young admirer was to listen to the guys that he (Wolf) learned from: Charlie Patton, Son House and Bukka White.

Linden did just that and perfected his slide guitar sound. He worked with all manner of performers like Leon Redbone, Amos Garrett and fellow Canadians Rick Danko and Garth Hudson (of the Band) and even had the distinction, at one memorable gig, of being joined by four ex-members of Howlin' Wolf's great band - Hubert Sumlin, Sam Lay, Calvin Jones and Henry Gray!

US-based female collaborators like Mavis Staples, Cassandra Wilson and Lucinda Williams offer further evidence of his stature.

Stephen Fearing has been a frequent visitor to the UK for many years and has established a loyal fan-base for his largely acoustic albums and quality songs.

Although he was born in Vancouver, Fearing lived in Dublin for several years before returning to Canada and his long friendship with Linden resulted in the formation of the Rodeo Kings back in 1996.

Tom Wilson, the third amigo, was the frontman of Junkhouse, one of Canada's favourite bands. Together, they bring a lifetime of experience to the stage and can refer to more than 30 albums between them.

The band's latest offering, Let's Frolic (True North Records), has contributions from famed Dylan/U2/Emmylou producer Daniel Lanois and vocals from Pam Tillis.

Jazz guitar is an almost exclusively male domain but the Cluny's guests next Tuesday prove that it need not be.

Deirdre Cartwright has a 30-year career which shows what can be done with some application. She started in her school days with a band called Painted Lady (a forerunner of the heavy metal Girlschool) then Beaver before landing the job as presenter on the BBC's highly popular Rockschool which regularly attracted over two million viewers. Next came her band Guest Stars, before the Deirdre Cartwright Group. It is that line-up which she brings to the Cluny for a night of jazz, rock and several points between.

Another highly acclaimed guitarist, Clive Carroll, returns to the Buddle Arts Centre in Wallsend next Friday. The acoustic-maestro - he does play electric guitar and banjo, too - has a formidable technique which, coupled with a wonderful compositional talent developed at Trinity College in London, allows him to tackle virtually anything. In his formative years he played in bands specialising in rock, jazz and folk but he was always destined to be a solo player. Carroll is often billed as a folk finger-picker but his material contains elements from a very broad spectrum of musical styles. His talents have taken him around the world and he co-wrote the score for the recent Julie Walters/Rupert Grinch film Driving Lessons, with John Renbourn. Ticket info from the Buddle on (0191) 200 7026/7132.


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