Wesley Freeman-Smith Reports on Alice Walker, Russell Swallow & the Wolf, Raevennan Husbandes & Robin Gillan at CB2 12th March

In a city such as Cambridge, full to the brink of intimate happenings in basements, cafes, pubs and churches, the sheer abundance of singer-songwriter types makes it something of an annoyance. No, I haven't heard your EP; this is probably because I suspect it'll be just like the last 5 EP's people have sent to me, and unless you're doing something funky with a Launchpad I'm quite bored of hearing guitars now thank you very much. Additional to this obstacle is the onerous honour of being a promoter heavily associated with these kind of antics – leading to a kind of envy-fueled condescension; either an evening makes some painfully obvious mistakes, or is so accomplished in its execution I'll see green. Both options leave little room for love, which is why it's even more of an achievement that tonight was absolutely charming, disarming, and utterly enamoring.

Four songwriters playing unplugged in the famously haunted CB2 Basement, taking full advantage of the accidentally amazing natural acoustics down there, all held together with the warm and affable compering of host and 3rd act Russell Swallow. I tend to think the atmosphere of a night filters down from the mood of the organizer, so as we were informed payment was an option not a requirement and handed a heart-shaped chocolate on entry, you could tell it was going to have a good vibe.

Local gent Robim Gillan opened up the proceedings, extrapolating songs from folk idioms using a vast array of traditional instruments – from guitar to fiddle to banjo. Invested in traditional forms, his songs started the evening off on a compulsively foot-stamping note, though the audience seemed a little timid at this stage for any whooping or hollering. No matter. What we got were some rather macabre songs interspersed with comedic songs about mules, which is by no means a bad thing. And the playing throughout was excellent. Particularly the fiddle was incredibly graceful; an ordered cascade of beautiful notes. Gillan, I'm informed, is very much a veteran of the Cambridge scene, frequently involved in The Portland Arms' traditional folk clubs on Sundays. If this is anything to go by then I'm liable to venture down, and urge you to also.

First thing you notice about Raevennan Husbandes is her glorious hair, a chaotic abundance of woolly joy balanced atop her like it cares not for the regular rules of physics. The second is her cherubic face and beautifully cheerful smile. The third, however, renders all that rather irrelevant, as her beautiful golden voice and sincere songwriting washed over us like some kind of healing balm, warming and charming all it touched. I feel a star in the making, here. The room was markedly quiet as Raevennan's songs unfolded, an audience bewitched one would assume, and it's not hard to see why. There was something purifying about her set, and without wishing to be incredibly cliched, comparable to a beautiful sunset – one that makes you realize who you're missing, because you want them there to see it too. A lovely and heart warming experience; one can only hope for bigger things in store for the future.

The calibre is unusually high tonight, so my apologies in advance for all the praise and gushing; but I would not have felt compelled to write, had it not been so gorgeous a night. Premature headliners Russell Swallow and the Wolf are up next, reminiscent of Rue Royale in format and attitude – two quite lovely seeming people, a man on guitar and a lady on keys, and some amazing two-part harmonies that truly made material sing. Their set was atmospheric and incredibly well executed, with never a bum note, and perfect song structures you could set your watch to. Lyrically and melodically evocative, the interplay between the male and female vocals, guitar and piano, were all rather splendid. Again there's that word 'charming' on the tip of my tongue. The songs had an urgency to them too; titles like 'S.O.S.' and 'Fire' imply a passion that consumes as much as it fuels.

The only negative was that they had a leave before the end; no doubt called by some strict train schedule to their next tour date. Which is very unfortunate, and left the night feeling slightly rudderless for the final act – none other than Alice Walker, another local(ish) talent who most of you should know by now. For those who don't, imagine those cathartic journal entries you used to write as an angry teenager, loaded with poetry and melodramatic fantasies (is it just me?). Now imagine that you write with the verbosity of someone like Saul Williams, and instead of a pen you've got a keyboard in front of you and an instinctive, intimate grasp of it's workings. Now imagine doing all this flawlessly in front of an audience who thinks you're amazing, papering the gaps between songs with self-deprecating wit and some rather frank banter. You are now Alice Walker. Flowing like spoken word set to melody, her music can be both soulful and caustic, unfolding with wit and tenderness all backed up by a fuckload of honesty. Whether this is commercially viable is another question, but surely at this level, squatting downstairs in a basement decorated with dead Russian Czars, we're after truth from our art and not just pretty melodies?

I am, anyway. Despite the early absenteeism of the evening's organizer, the night wrapped up with it's feel-good factors intact and ultimately proved that even when your palette is as basic as 'acoustic singer-songwriter', you can still put together an evening of highly eclectic performers. From the traditionally folky to the heart warmingly personable, to the enjoyably literary, this evening made me fall in love with the potential of acoustic music again. Sometimes, it's good to be reminded that it's worth taking a risk with a line-up you don't know; when the mood is right and the talents are high, it makes it all worth it.

Writer: Wesley Freeman-Smith