I first heard Babette Hayward a year or so back, opening for another singer-songwriter I was friends with, and very excited to see. I didn't know a thing about this young Saint John, NB performer, other than I had seen her name a couple of times listed for venues, and since it's an uncommon first name, it stuck in my mind. But really, I wasn't expecting much, I saw she was just a kid, something like 19 at the time, and I was there to see the other performer.
Um, not many other people were. There were perhaps 10 or so the whole night, and even less when Babette, our opening act, took the stage. We'd shaken hands and said hi by this point, the other people there were the next band, and the bartender, and one of my musical colleagues, so the show started pretty informally, Babette saying, "Well, I guess I should play," leaving the table, walking five feet and stepping up to the mic.
Sometimes you just can't believe your ears. This was one of them. As soon as she started singing, I knew this was a confident young woman with talent. And I knew she could sing, I'd never heard a voice quite like hers. Sure she was young, lacking experience, shakey at times, but it was all stuff that would come would practice and more stage work. Ooo, time for a sports metaphor! It's like one of those raw baseball draft picks, the kid they say has all the tools, speed, strength, throwing, it's just a matter of teaching them the game. In Babette's case, those tools are singing, songwriting, melody, spark. In her short set, she played mostly originals, including a couple that made me shake my head. I can distinctly remember being bewildered about how someone so young could write so well, had accomplished something so difficult already. How a couple of her first songs were better than those many 40 and 50-year old pros had written or would ever write.
Go forward a few months, and my next Babette sighting was as part of a tour of the province in Fall 2010, called the New Brunswick Emerging Artists, with three other up-and-comers. By this time, she had her first recordings, a 6-track EP, some unpolished numbers, hand-packaged in a paper bag of all things, pretty cool. And she was, as predicted, sounding more confident, the songs more fleshed out, and she was now able to appear pretty relaxed on the stages of our bigger theatres in the province, enjoying herself, and belonging there. All was going good.
Then, last month at the East Coast Music Awards, Babette was shining again, getting her name out, showcasing, and had a special treat to hand over. Her first full-length, fully produced album, all her own songs, with a band and strong arrangements behind her. It's a winner for sure, called You Might Be Somebody. I'm really pleased with the results, the producers and Babette didn't drop the ball or overdo the material. It still has the basis of what she's about, an acoustic guitar player with a strong voice and even stronger lyrics. The melodies are allowed to come out, there's no tricks, but lots of good accompaniment. I'd describe it as subtle and sweet backing, not showy. You get to pay attention to that voice.
It's the voice that sounded a lot older and wiser to me a year back, and I'm still bothered and bewildered by her ability to write like this. Now I know she's a big music fan, especially of the greats, and works at a record store, so she hears lots, maybe that's part of it. Anyway, see for yourself live, that's the best introduction to her music. Babette's playing Friday night, May 27th at the Red Herring in St. Andrews, and Saturday night the 28th at the Capitol Complex in Fredericton.
The new collection, You Might Be Somebody, actually isn't being released for sale until July, but there are some early copies available at her website, babettehayward.com.