Being a singer-songwriter is a tricky business. Which route do you take? You can always attempt to bludgeon your audience into submission with the sheer power of your one act show, or you can entrance them with the ethereal magic of your fragile performance.
So far, we’ve seen both sides of the singer-songwriter paradox (well, as we like to call it) in just a few hours at End Of The Road Festival, first with Stephanie Dosen‘s disturbing, delicate folk and then with John Doe‘s straight-down-the-line country blues.
We catch Dosen on the main Garden Stage just as the rain is beginning to pour – so this is why Dorset is so green.
While on record songs like ‘Way Out’ could easily be too sentimental, cloying or (god forbid) kooky, they’re given enough raggedness and immediacy by her all-female band (including a cellist and a violinist) to survive unscathed.
Dosen herself, with her nest of bleached blonde hair and torn black dress, is an engaging, if confusing, personality: gaps between her dark but sweet songs are taken up with her bizarre stage banter. At one point, while her string players are finding their music for the next song, Dosen introduces half her band then tells half a ‘knock knock’ joke, before exclaiming “that’s because I’m a fucker!” No, us neither.
Meanwhile, John Doe is kicking out the jams in the Big Top tent with his acoustic blues. While Dosen relies on her meticulously fingerpicked melodies, Doe just strums his guitar with the force of an ox. It may not be the most dynamic performance, but the singer keeps the crowd rapt with his low honeyed croon. The highlight of the set is undoubtedly his rendition of a 1920s-style murder ballad about ‘the meanest man in the world’.
Near the end of Doe‘s set he’s joined by desert-folk legend Howe Gelb and his band for a few thrilling up-tempo hoedowns. It obviously doesn’t matter which type of singer-songwriter you are, as long as you’re a good one, that is. The paradox is solved.
Words: Tom Pinnock