In her full length red dress Katie Ware creates a striking image as she glides silently centre stage at Manchester's Deaf Institute and slipping her guitar across her shoulder introduces herself to tonight's audience. Although often performing as a five piece - including guitar, cello and additional harmonies - tonight Little Sparrow plays with a more stripped back accompaniment consisting of Graham Clark on violin and Mitch Oldham on percussion. A line up which indeed has never taken to the stage before.
For any musician, I am sure, there is an image, a visualization of how the structure of their lovingly crafted work will hold together when performed by the full compliment of musicians for which it was intended and I have seen many suffer under the constraints of having to cope with such adjustments. There is to be no such problem for Little Sparrow tonight though, as far from detracting from the richness of their sound this instead creates a spaciousness in which each of the musicians is able to weave their own delicate web of sound around Katie's hauntingly expressive vocals.
I have come to realize that each time that I watch her play there is always something more to be found in her performance that I haven’t fully appreciated on the previous occasion. The beauty of her voice and the quality of the playing is clearly there for all to see and hear but I keep discovering something new about the content of her lyrics and the individual way that she chooses to perform each song, as although they are all uniquely different, collectively they combine perfectly to offer textures of shade and light to her set. Maybe, in part at least, due to a background in other genres of music and her own diversified taste she has developed a natural ability to introduce subtle differences of style to suite each song and to convey the messages in her lyrics in a way that ensures that they are presented in an honest and heartfelt manner.
To listen to “The Swallow Flies” is to evoke an image of a bird ‘on the wing’ as her vocal skips lightly over Mitch’s rolling percussive beats whereas “Hunted (A Bears Tale )” conjures up a fairytale woodland scene so clear that you can almost feel the chill of the morning dew as it drips from the trees. If anyone should ever look for inspiration on how to write a love song in it’s purest form then they need look no further than both “Heart” and “By My Side” which are quite simply as perfect examples as you could ever hope to find – so clearly created from genuine feelings that each time you hear them performed you know that you are sharing something intensely personal. Each sentiment is cradled as gently as a mother would her child and tonight they are performed to perfection.
As she plays her set the light flickers from the venue's huge revolving mirror ball and dances across her face serving to further illuminate in her eyes the emotion that she expresses so naturally both visually and in song. It is with fascination that the point comes where the song with the still working title of “Spanish” segues into one of her most accomplished and beautiful compositions - “Sending The Message” which performed with full band is filled with harmonies and a wall of layered instrumentation. Does it lose any of its strength and direction through this more stripped down delivery? -not for one moment! Graham and Mitch are faultless in their delicate support underpinning a breathtaking vocal from Katie and where there are normally harmonies, instead there are brief moments of anticipating silence punctuating the song and giving even greater effect as her vocal soars flawlessly into the air.
With a perfectly performed collection of songs of exceptional beauty completed she departs the stage to generous applause and - for those who are watching her play for the first time - the name that is deeply etched into their memories is that of Little Sparrow.
Review /photos by Shay Rowan