"A True English Rose" - Amanda Lehmann and Nigel Pearce at Trading Boundaries, Friday 20th January 2023. Review and photos by Kenny Brown.

It’s a very cold Friday evening and things are not going to plan. My friend Euan is flying down from Glasgow for “Hackett fest” as we have dubbed the weekend and the plane is late into Gatwick. If this was just a weekend break we would’ve cancelled the plans for the evening but this is no ordinary Friday. The lovely Amanda Lehmann has added a rare solo performance to her appearances at Trading Boundaries where she usually guests with Steve Hackett and nothing is going to stop us attending. We are chasing the clock but also conscious that it’s dark and we’re in the Ashdown Forest. Last year a deer ran in front of my car while returning from a gig here causing lots of damage so we carefully arrive at the venue. Our genial host Michael Clifford who runs Trading Boundaries (with his business partner Tracy) greets us and shows us to our table. Thankfully our fears have been allayed and we have missed nothing.

Writer Nigel Pearce is supporting Amanda this evening and as we are both big Beatles fans, we are really looking forward to his talk to introduce his book “Inside Number Three” telling the story of Apple Records. The stage is adorned with three replica Beatles guitars which Nigel strangely never mentions during his talk. There’s no sign of Amanda’s Ibanez “Red” it’s at home having a night off as this is an acoustic evening. Sadly, they’ll be no “Hierophant” tonight. During Nigel’s presentation we get the first glimpse of Amanda as she covers “Julia” from the White album followed by “Here comes the Sun” from Abbey Road. It turns out she’s a huge Beatles fan too. I particularly like her rendition of Julia as she sings it so beautifully. It gives the song a completely different sound, I’d never heard it live before being sung by anyone so this is a great start to the evening.

After a short break it’s time for the main set, Michael makes his usual short introduction and Amanda makes her way onto the stage to polite applause. It’s a well-attended gig with friends and family scattered throughout the audience. Her sister Jo is there with husband Steve Hackett to show support.

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Amanda starts with “Tinkerbell” a track from her new album “Innocence and Illusion”. It takes a moment to get started as her guitar lead is caught under the speaker on stage but once that’s sorted out the early nerves dissipate she’s flying high! Amanda uses the fragility and purity of her vocals well on this childlike song, a theme that runs through her album.

Next is “Never Never Land” a track from her time with Wazzoon, a duo that she was part of. It turns out that the gentleman sitting directly in front of Amanda is in fact Eddy Deegan the other half of that group and she introduces him during the set.
“One Last Spin” deals with gambling addiction, one of several tough subjects that she tackles head on this evening. The undulating vocal style conjures images of a roulette wheel and the downward spiral of addiction. Amanda carefully explains each song in turn giving a real insight into its origins however she has to keep herself in check adding: “I’m waffling!” on more than one occasion.

“Shadow” is followed by the highlight of the set “Memory Lane”. This is a real tear jerker as it tells of how she coped with her mother’s dementia which is something we all may have to confront later in life. Our mutual friend Alan Hewitt is reduced to tears every time he hears the song as he also lost his father to this disease. “I seem to be lost in the rain I can’t remember your name…”. Truly heart breaking. A few of us applaud with a lump in our throat and a tear in our eye.
“Only Happy When It Rains” is a song which I’ve seen Amanda play a few times while guesting with Steve. He usually duets harmonica on this song however this is Amanda’s night and he stays out of the spotlight. I recognise the grumpy character in the song and I would add that any resemblance is purely co-incidental….!
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“The song The Watcher is many different things to different people, what is it to you?” says Amanda. Is it a stalking song I wonder? Is it voyeuristic? Or is it when someone is starstruck and just can’t get their words out when suddenly confronted by their hero. Or perhaps it’s something entirely different!

Delving deep into the back catalogue for a medley now, “Count For Something/Lament/Mother Earth” addressing climate change and the damage we have done to our planet. Amanda confesses that dementia, depression and climate change are not subjects that you would associate with a great night out but the songs are performed so beautifully that she carries it off magnificently.

“Childhood Delusions” is another song from the new album with a child like theme. The vocal is clear and pure and reminds me of early Kate Bush, straight out of a fairy tale from your childhood. “The man in the moon still follows me home”
“Monsters” finishes the set to rapturous applause and a standing ovation.

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Amanda returns smiling and waving and treats us to a cover of Mary Hopkins “Those were the Days”. This really gets the crowd going and everyone joins in singing and clapping along.

It’s an uplifting ending to the show. Amanda seemed happy enough at the end chatting to everyone as they leave. The venue is so intimate that you can’t help but mingle with the performers afterwards. I grab a quick word with her and a copy of the set list to help with this review!
I hope that we get a chance to see her again soon at Trading Boundaries doing her solo work. She really is a true English rose. The “third night” worked well as a prelude to Steve’s shows. Perhaps Nick Magnus could be persuaded to add some keyboards to enhance and replicate the album sound next time?
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