Soul stirrings and a cup of coffee in the Fens

Gospel-jazz singer Libby Redman from York who was the first guest performer in the new season of After Hours Live at Octavia's Cafe, Wisbech.
Gospel-jazz singer Libby Redman from York who was the first guest performer in the new season of After Hours Live at Octavia's Cafe, Wisbech.

MUSIC REVIEW: Libby Redman, After Hours Live, Octavia’s Cafe, Wisbech

What makes a singer from the city which gave us York Minster, The Shambles and the Knavesmire racecourse end up performing gospel music.

The answer came at Octavia’s Cafe, Wisbech, where the first of this season’s After Hours Live concerts featured York-based theology and community music graduate Libby Redman.

After Hours Live, billed as a combination of “first-class entertainment with a twist of faith”, is hosted by The King’s Church, Wisbech, and past guest have included ex-Zimbabwe cricketer Henry Olonga, Christian singer-songwriter Dave Bilbrough and Wisbech singer-guitarist Tommy Loose.

Fresh from releasing her second album, So Good, last November, Libby entertained and inspired an audience at the home of the Ferry Project for homeless people in Fenland.

Libby’s highlights included gospel classic The Blood, written by late American pioneer Andrae Crouch, two Bill Withers songs, Lean on Me and Lovely Day, along with songs from her two albums Where Life Begins (2013) and So Good (2015).

With a voice and personality full of warmth and vitality, Libby Redman just might be ready to put York on the musical map in a way not seen since 90s’ indie-rock band Shed Seven.

In fact, a member of Shed Seven - guitarist Joe Johnson - played a big part in introducing Libby to the world of album recording after a chance meeting in 2009.

Libby, who runs her own performing arts company, said: “I was playing at a vicar’s birthday party and Joe Johnson was there.

“He spotted me, heard me and thought that I had a real talent.

“My first EP (extended play), Sweet and Sparkling, was a great opportunity to learn from somebody who had had some success and it was a great experience where I learned a lot about recording music.

“Where Love Begins was a big step up because I produced the album myself and got to work with some fantastic musicians.

“The new album, So Good, has been a great time as regards the process of recording and being in the studio with some talented musicians.”

The Libby Redman story of performing began as a child when she was “surrounded” by the music played by her parents, including American soul legend Al Green who gave a successful recording career to become a church leader more than 40 years ago.

“From when I was born, I was surrounded by gospel music being played inside my house,” Libby said.

“I was exposed to it from a young age and I knew that I wanted to sing as my dad was very much interested in Christian music.

“I started writing songs as soon as I could read, from the age of five, and I loved to write gospel songs in particular.

“At the age of 11, I got to perform in public for the first time and it went well, but it was difficult for any young person to be a Christian at school.

“However, I found it to be a great opportunity to share my faith through music and talk to my friends about gospel music and church.”

Libby stayed in York to study for a Bachelor of Arts degree in theology and a Master of Arts in community music which led to her being appointed musical and creative director at The Ark Church in York.

“At university, I started to realise that I had a talent for music and I could pursue a singing career,” Libby said.

“I started singing professionally at different venues and I’ve had some wonderful opportunities all over the UK and Europe.

“A lot of people say that I’m quite nichey and different in my style, but I believe God can take you anywhere when you commit your life to him.

“All sorts of amazing things can happen and I’ve had some wonderful opportunities to travel to places around the world, but also to sing at Ronnie Scott’s (Jazz Club) in London.”

As well as running her arts company, Libberty Arts, Libby is also an ambassador for Compassion UK which sponsors children through their education in Africa, Asia, Europe and South America.

Libby juggles this with a diary of events and invitations, such as After Hours Live, which led previously to her being nominated for the Best UK Act award by Irish magazine Pure M.

“I wanted to set something up that could really give hope to people through music,” Libby said.

“Through Libberty Arts, I get to run workshops and events that help young people to grow in confidence.

“I was invited to become an ambassador for Compassion UK as a time when I was thinking about sponsoring a child and it’s such an honour and a privilege to share their work with people.”

Review and interview by Winston Brown