Without doubt Snape Maltings is one of Suffolk’s jewels. The buildings, built in the 1840s to malt barley, no longer house maltsters and drying grain, but instead they are home to one of the finest concert halls in the country thanks to the foresight of composer Benjamin Britten.
For me however, The Maltings at Snape has always been as much about the land around it, the river and the wildlife as it has about its musical heritage. On Saturday night all these elements came together to create a magical evening of sounds, both man-made and natural.
Local musicians Honey & The Bear were one of the first to grace the makeshift stage outside the concert hall café performing two live sets to a real three-dimensional audience of music fans seated on the Hepworth Lawn.
Arriving slightly late, we chose to place our camping chairs by the boardwalk, the large reed bed separating us from the stage directly in front of us. This random piece of happenstance helped to make the whole experience incredibly special indeed.
Fans of Honey & The Bear have been following their Sunday night livestreams which have been taking place for over twenty weeks. They were one of the first to get live streaming right in my opinion. But this was a live gig, what so many of us have been craving for so long.
Lucy & Jon played songs from their debut album, ‘Made in the Aker’, alongside some old favourites and new covers – songs suggested by their fans during lockdown that they felt the duo would do justice to.
Sandy Denny’s ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’ has become a favourite of the Bear Cave audience and I must say, Lucy’s effortless rendition is a treat for the ears. As if on cue, a flock of birds took to the air as the first line rang out across the lawn “Across the evening sky, all the birds are leaving…”
Sting’s ‘Fields of Gold’, a song almost as old as Lucy herself, never appealed to me when sung by the author. It was Eva Cassidy’s version that made me sit up and notice it in 1996. When Katie Melua sang her version for Children in Need in 2017 I was entranced. Honey & The Bear’s rendition of this classic song proves that musically they are up there with the best of them, if not indeed better. In the distance, across the river Alde, from our vantage point among the reeds, we could hear the gentle sound of the harvesting machines at work among the fields of…
From this you might be mistaken for thinking that Honey & The Bear only do covers. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are prolific songwriters in their own right. ‘Dark Heart’ is the opening track on ‘Made in the Aker’. There is an eeriness about it with that bow being slowly drawn across the double bass, providing the dark foreboding tone. Live on Saturday night the song was augmented by a gentle wind in the reeds – spine tingling stuff.
The loudest applause of the evening, unsurprisingly came after, ‘United We’ll Stay’, written in lockdown and dedicated to the NHS. All the fans’ favourites were included; ‘Springtime Girl’, ‘Tin Tin’, ‘Around the World’ and no Honey & The Bear gig would be complete without ‘Wristburner’ to bring the evening to a close.
The sound quality was perfect with no walls bouncing sound back and forth, the weather perfect, the cool evening breeze a relief from the very high temperatures we experienced during the day. Snape Maltings are to be congratulated for putting on these shows. They will take place each Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the foreseeable future with sourdough pizza and a bar making it feel almost normal. Perhaps these outdoor gigs are a glimpse of this new normal everyone is talking about.
Topping off an excellent evening’s entertainment for us was a somewhat unexpected treat. Something no livestream can offer; meeting up with friends we hadn’t seen for the best part of six months. Some of us even made our way back to a pub where I enjoyed my first pint of post lockdown cider, in a pub.