Invercargill-born songstress Helen Henderson has recorded in London, LA, Nashville and Muscle Shoals. For this Saturday evening she and seven other musicians were perched one the tiny stage at Ponsonby’s Café One2One, playing and singing the songs that comprise her nearly-40-year career.
Helen Henderson’s story is a long and fascinating one, with an important chapter of it having just been told in the form of London, the collection of previously-unreleased tracks recorded in London in the 1970s with players such as Dave Mattacks (Fairport Convention) and Clem Clempson (Humble Pie) and then forgotten (until now). Check out The 13th Floor album review for more info about London.
The vibe was friendly and informal as Helen (The Kiwi Siren) and her band ran through a couple of number during their somewhat public soundcheck. The band was still learning a few of the songs during the actual performance, but that only added to the charm of the evening.
I didn’t catch all of the bandmembers’ names, but I do know that was Cameron Bennett on slide guitar, Steve Garrish on mandolin and Chris Priestly joining in on backing vocals. There was also an electric guitar player, another on acoustic, a bassist and drummer.
Starting her first set at 8pm, Henderson opened the evening with Twisting Wind, the title track from her 2009 album which features former Lucinda Williams guitarist Doug Pettibone and Muscle Shoals session players David Hood (bass) and keyboard player Spooner Oldham.
There are few Kiwi artists who can claim to have worked with such a diverse and stellar group of musicians, and their involvement stands as a tribute to Helen’s songwriting.
The first set was the mellower of the two featuring what she described as “the first song I ever wrote”, which was Anyone’s Baby, one of the rescued tracks from London.
She and the band were still finding their feet…”What’s the next song?” was heard a few times from the stage and the version of Children Of The Night was missing a few lyrics.
The first set wrapped with a fine version of Beltane Fires, described as both “a Celtic fertility ritual” and a “freedom song”.
“We’ll come back and rock your socks off”, she promised.
Indeed, the second set did rock harder and more importantly, swampier.
Helen introduced the song, Better This Time as one she recorded at Muscle Shoals with The Swampers at FAME Studio and then made sure that her newly-assembled band laid down an appropriately swampy groove for the tune.
The band really started to cook during Lucky One, sounding like something Bonnie Raitt could easily sink her teeth into. In fact, Helen Henderson’s style cold best be described as somewhere between Bonnie Raitt and Lucinda Williams.
After Lucky One we were treated to a good old country weeper, Now Is Forever, which Henderson called a “drunken Texas bar song”.
The set closed with Minnie Dean, her 1999 Kiwi folk song inspired by the real-life 19th century woman who did away with her child.
The encore featured two of Helen’s favourites by other artists, Bobbie Gentry’s Ode To Billie Joe and John Prine’s Angel From Montgomery.
Just before leaving the stage, Helen confided to the crowd that there was a good chance that she would return to the same venue on July 30th for another performance. I advise to arrive early…seating is limited and the sound check is entertaining.
Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Ivan Karzcewski:
Helen Henderson set list:
- Twisting Wind
- Have Your Own Way
- Anyone’s Baby
- Children Of The Night
- Beltrane Fires
- It Never Happens Here
- Better This Time
- Lucky One
- Now Is Forever
- Tea And Sugar
- Minnie Dean
- Ode To Billie Joe
- Angel From Montgomery