A wonderful showcase of female and non-binary talent curated by Hen Hoose took over the CCA in Glasgow at Manifesto, the event kickstarting the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival taking place throughout October.

Everyone takes their seats and the lights dim as Sarah Hayes enters the stage, ready to introduce the crowd to an array of original ballads and folk songs. She begins with ‘Springburn’, a song created as part of a project she released in 2019 called You Tell Me. This perfectly sets the tone of the evening, as everyone falls silent to listen to the story being told through the music.

Sarah Hayes performing at Manifesto with a keyboard.
Sarah Hayes (c. Ingrid Mur)

Behind her, a projected image of glowing dots all lined up like the notes on her keyboard, moving in correspondence to her playing, adding an extra layer of visualisation and creativity to her performance. She describes the next song ‘When First I Came To Caledonia’ as depicting the story of someone moving far away to start a new life. The emotion in her voice echoes through the dimly lit room, grabbing the attention of the audience and refusing to let go.

She performs a mix of slow, sombre songs as well as more hopeful and upbeat ones, like ‘Clarian Call’ which is another song from You Tell Me. “This song is about not waiting until conditions are perfect before make some sort of change…because it’s never going to happen”, she tells us. With just her voice and a keyboard, she captivates the audience in such a way that we we’re transported into the vivid places she creates through her songs.

Sarah is a singer, flautist and keyboard player from Northumberland. She released her debut album Woven in 2015, a studio reimagining of her commission for Celtic Connections New Voices, and is also a member of Admiral Fallow.

Before her set comes to an end, she has a laugh with the audience whilst describing one of her songs as dramatic enough to have “EastEnders Christmas Special Production Value”. She lets the final notes of her last song ring out as the lights go up and she leaves the audience in the hands of the next artist, SHEARS.

SHEARS performing at Manifesto, ready to hit a cymbal.
SHEARS (c. Ingrid Mur)

Accompanied by her ensemble – a setup of a drum machines and a unique looking symbol – SHEARS, also known as Becca, thanked the audience before flipping the energy in the room to some energetic dance beats. She played a set of original songs that she has composed throughout the last three years, operating out of her flat in Leith, Edinburgh.

“Let’s dive in”, she says as she kickstarts her set with her song ‘Blurry’. She makes use of electronic beats and periodically crashes the symbol to add even more energy and excitement to her performance. Her voice is just as powerful as her stage presence as some members of the audience begin get up from their seats to dance.

She plays one of her most popular songs titled ‘Carbon Copy’, inspired by the idea of not trying to copy anyone and instead just being yourself. Then we’re introduced to a newly released track, ‘Figure Me Out’, which envelopes the audience in a sense of entrancement; you feel like you are lost in a story and the music is the narrator.

She treats us to an unreleased song called ‘Shadow’ which is a whole new vibe in contrast to the last song, with more intense baselines and funky instrumental presets. SHEARS’ ability to create this music by herself at home and bring it to life on stage, whilst multi-tasking between vocals and her live setup is really inspiring. She also shows off her incredible voice, hitting whistle notes and making it look effortless.

Her music shows her clear drive for sonic exploration, whilst blending elements of drum and bass with electronic pop to create a sound that is uniquely hers.

SHEARS is making waves in the music industry, performing at events and festivals across the UK, including live on BBC Radio Scotland. It’s really motivating to have someone like Becca being recognised for their production when this industry is often so hard to break into for women.

Her music shows her clear drive for sonic exploration, whilst blending elements of drum and bass with electronic pop to create a sound that is uniquely hers. It seems clear from her energy during the performance that Becca enjoyed herself just as much as the audience did.

The last performance of the night comes from indie rock and pop artist, Ray Aggs. From the moment they reach the stage, the enchanting sounds of electronic synths and samples fill the room. On stage with them is an array of music equipment that echo cool and funky sounds accompanied by Ray’s amazing vocals, violin and electric guitar playing.

They play ‘New Beat’ from their debut solo album Visitations 0202, a funky experimental track centered around a mysterious ‘heartbreaker’ mentioned in the lyrics. A lot of their lyrics are very positive and lend a sense of motivation and power to the listener. Ray’s stage presence exudes an infectious energy that adds to the allure of their music. They donned a smile throughout their entire set, creating an inviting atmosphere that made the audience feel as though we were warmly welcomed into their musical odyssey.

Ray Aggs performing with their arms raised and an electric guitar around their neck.
Ray Aggs (c. Ingrid Mur)

Citing their influences as West African highlife and post-punk, these are undoubtably present in their creations. Ray confidently puts their own unique spin on these genres by adding alternative samples that give it an electronic and nostalgic feel. Their song ‘compassion’, which they described as being a personal mantra for practicing good mental health, has a particular guitar melody that perfectly embodies this.

They’ve honed in on and curated their own sound, which has helped to solidify them in the DIY music scene throughout Glasgow and further afield. They’ve undertaken collaborative projects with the likes of Trash Kit, Shopping and Sacred Paws, as well as creating zines and co-ordinating workshops that encourage women, non-binary people, and people of colour to form bands.

They continued their set playing some of their best songs from various past albums and projects. Ray encouraged the audience to get moving, calling out to them “if anyone feels like dancing, you should…step into the aisles, come down the front if you want to!”.

This talented musician with their euphoric sound bid the audience goodnight as they drew the evening to a close with a final song, ‘Welcoming the Waves’.

Each set was very different, but the artists all showed spectacular passion and creativity for what they created and put on a gig that was a truly special experience for everyone who attended.

Hen Hoose is a songwriting collective and music production house based in Glasgow, which celebrates and brings together female and non-binary artists, writers, and producers from many different genres across Scotland, and now expanding further into the UK.

Hen Hoose released their anticipated album Equaliser in 2022, which was written remotely during lockdown and went on to be nominated for a SAY Award. The collective is a truly amazing project and after witnessing this outstanding gig, I can’t wait to see what else they and these amazing artists create in the future.

Hazel Mclean is a Talking Heads volunteer living in Glasgow. She studies music at university and is interested in the history of music in the context of culture and politics. She is passionate about mental health activism and hopes to one day have a professional career as a music journalist.

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