I was recently invited to take part on the judging panel of an acoustic competition at The Dog in Coventry. Top prize of £500 cash after 5 weekly heats and a final so I thought, why not?
Wednesday 25th September was the date of the first heat with 6 acts on the stage. I was joined by 2 other panellists, Paul from Radio Plus, a new community radio station in Coventry and Organiser of the event plus the manager of the venue, Mat Rowley.
The first act on stage was Ian Hough. There was no messing around from Ian with his 25 minute time limit. He fired a lot of songs without a pause for breath. His style of music was something that certainly made me smile. Think of Roy Chubby Brown going political with his lyrics. Ian was very confident and very talented too with a Billy Bragg sound to his music. His opening song ‘Kill The Upper Classes’ was a great piece of writing in my opinion.
Next on stage was Rachael O’Hara. Rachael did a great mix of original tracks including one she wrote when she was just 13. Speaking to her afterwards, she has certainly been around the music scene for a long time and that was apparent in her voice. She had a similar sound to Gwen Stefani and again, very confident in what she was doing. She finished her set with a very different version of The Cranberries classic song ‘Zombie’.
Another young lass next and seemed to be a crowd favourite, Shannen Lindsay. As soon as Shannen started singing, it was quite clear that she was in the running to be a winner of the heat. When listening and watching acts doing acoustic sets, you always try and put a likeness to them but with Shannon this was not possible. As I put in my notes ‘perfect as an acoustic, sounds complete as a solo artist’. You need to watch out for this girl in the future.
4th on the bill was Sean Neale & Mia Callens. In a competition it is hard to be first or last on but to be right there in the middle after 3 amazing performances and be the only duet, this must have put a bit of extra pressure on these 2. There was a few nerves kicking about as they started and a few technical issues which knocked them off their stride but they got past that quite professionally and just got on with their act. It was quite an interesting set of mainly covers but a great original track in the middle which was fantastic and made me wonder why they didn’t do more of their own material. *unfortunately, my camera messed up the photo for Sean & Mia, my apologies*
Sean McDonagh was next on the stage. A young lad with a great array of songs. Most definitely the best guitarist technically that we had seen. Sean was oozing with confidence and really showed that with his singing and playing. He opened with a very unusual version of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Lets Get It On’ then went through a number of covers and originals and finished off with Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’ which again, was outstanding.
The final act of the night was Aymee Weir. She looked a little nervous when she took the stage but I think that she was caught out as she was kicking off with a cover of Mumford & Sons ‘I Belong To You’ which was covered by Sean & Mia earlier in the show. To her credit, her version again had its own spin on it which made it original in its own sense. After the opening song Aymee’s confidence was high and she then went through the rest of her set without a single cover. She had such a natural voice but could easily have gone with a few higher notes as I believe that there was a lot more she could give out. When speaking to her after the show I suggested to her to have a go at Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ as I believe she has the voice for that song.
All the acts were outstanding and the quality was far higher than I expected. Seeing these 6 acts made me question why X-Factor and other reality TV shows are still churning out such rubbish when there is talent like this around… even in Coventry!!!
It came to the end of the night and the votes had to come in. Everyone in the room got to vote for their top 2 acts, the judges got to pick top 3. My 3 were: 3rd Ian Hough, because of his ballsy blast of anarchy. 2nd I went for Rachael O’Hara for her professionalism and 1st I chose Shannen Lindsay who didn’t put a note wrong and was simple amazing. It was very hard to pick those 3 as all 6 acts were fantastic and I had to use the full 15 minutes of vote time to come to my decision.
The votes then came in and the host went up onto the stage to announce the winner of heat 1, going through to the final on 6th November for the chance to win £500…
This was a great first heat and we are all looking forward to the next one on Wednesday 9th October.
In 3rd place: Sean McDonagh
In 2nd Place: Rachael O’Hara
In 1st place: Shannen Lindsay
Congratulations to Shannen for winning the heat, looking forward to seeing her again in the final and also, well done to Mat and his staff at The Dog for putting on such a well run event. It was a pleasure to be part of it and really can’t wait to get back there (they do Magners on draft too).