Female of the Species Blow the Roof of The Assembly Hall, for Carmela

Entertainment events in the county blossoming out of lockdown came to a pinnacle this weekend. We were spoiled for choice, and without cloning technology the decision would’ve been a toughy for me, if it hadn’t had been for the no-brainer; the sixth annual outing of local supergroup, The Female of the Species at Melksham’s brilliant Assembly Hall.

From the moment I was pinged the lowdown on this event my heartstrings spasmed, five band’s fantastic frontwomen in their own right united for the rare, Community Civic award-winning, fundraising bonanza which has become somewhat equal in legend around these parts as a Spice Girls reunion. And perhaps what is more, the proceeds this year were directed at another personal superheroine, Carmela Chillery-Watson.

Super-heroic is a term I don’t use lightly, and not out of sympathy for Carmela’s rare strain of muscular dystrophy. Over the past two years I’ve followed the progress of Carmela and her family’s fight against this muscle-wasting condition, since mum, Lucy sent Devizine a fundraising event poster and I figured I could do more, which consequently saw me take to my milk-round dressed in my Spiderman onesie! For, now at seven years old, Carmela’s zest for life and amiable charisma is an inspiration to everyone she meets. I found it rubs off on you with immediate effect, something hordes of international celebrities have also now discovered.

Bringing this celebrity herself now back home to Wiltshire for a fundraising event, I was not only delighted to meet her and her family again, but mightily impressed with her handling of fame. Carmela responds accordingly to mounting attention, never excluding or shunning any individual yet finding the time to address them all equally; a skill many a celeb could learn from.  

With a bombardment of unfortunate planning episodes, Jools of the reggae-ska band Train to Skaville confessed, “it was a nightmare trying to get this event off the ground,” it truly became a sense of it’ll be alright on the night, and the party went off with an explosive boom. The amalgamated wealth of experience, proficiency and professionalism of The Female of the Species shone through; they are deadlier than the male.

Dedication too, to overcome obstacles, apexed by performer and musical director, Nicky Davis of bands People Like Us and the Reason, who took a fall during rehearsals to personify the performance idiom, break a leg. Frustrated by her vocal restrictions slouched at the keyboard, the second half of the show proved too tempting, and Nicky manged to make it onto her feet to sing behind the keys, rather more like Jerry Lee Lewis than Elton John in style!

But we are getting ahead of ourselves now, for full credits have to be awarded to support act, Melksham-based Plan of Action. Unbeknown to me, this male trio with a female bassist took me by surprise. Based on previous FOTS supports, I was expecting soothing acoustics, yet Plan of Action done what it suggested on the tin, and executed said plan in a hard rock fashion akin to the Foo-Fighters covers they blasted with certain precision. They then beseeched their benchmark, rather than redefined their style, to cover Wilson Pickett’s Mustang Sally in hard-edged blues fashion, and finished more retro than they started with rock classics such as Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell.

Not only did they fire up the audience superbly in preparation, but their fanbase also resolved the terror of who would be first to break the dancefloor reservations. Now there was no stopping the crowd, as Female of the Species drummer, Pip Phillips of People Like Us was first to appear, foot-peddling the bass drum to build anticipation while the girls came onstage under an impressive light show.

Second tune in, Nicky Davis led them in an accomplished cover of Hotel California, and solo soul singer Julia Hanratty followed lead on Stevie Wonder’s Superstition, as is the Female of the Species code of conduct; memorable pop covers ranging the spectrums of their individual tastes. That said, we had none of the two-tone of Jools’ Train to Skaville, although she did an outstanding lead on Deacon Blue’s Real Gone Kid.

With affections towards uncompromising rock, Charmaigne Andrews’ AC/DC Highway to Hell boosted the crowd, but not before an early highlight for me; Julia’s absolutely outstanding cover of Aretha Franklin’s Respect, something I’d not advise any singer to attempt, as with Nicky last time, who gorgeously portrayed Heard it Through the Grapevine, Julia clearly knocked this one clear out of the park.

Claire Perry of Big Mama’s Banned not only brings range to the repertoire, but witty if saucy repartee to the show, unsurpassed during the break where Carmela joined her to announce raffle prize-winners. Sporting Wonder Woman headgear for the second half, they raised the roof of the Assembly Hall, as much as they raised serious funds for the cause.

Aforementioned, Nicky stood for the second half despite her plastered leg, as they played through memorable covers, dancefloor fillers, and perfected songs you’d be excused from thinking, oh my, they’re covering that? Bohemian Rhapsody, Grease Lightening, Oh, Sweet Child of Mine, and Jacko’s Beat It for examples. Jool’s cover of Kirsty MacColl’s New England, Claire’s I’ll Put a Spell on You, Charmaigne leading on Republica’s Ready to Go, the show continued past my bus time, but I could faintly hear Mr Blue Skies while I waited!

Yeah, here’s a thing I hadn’t thought of before; escaping the Devizes westwards for the evening is surprisingly possible via public transport, and it wasn’t a drunken fallout zone, like the Boot Hill All Star’s hilarious song, Night Bus, which I imagined, rather a mediocre and tranquil bus journey!

The last bus on the 273 route leaves Bath at 11:30, and gets to the Sham at ten-to-midnight; blooming marvellous, for Melksham have a real gem with the Assembly Hall. Drinks are affordable, the service well-staffed, the atmosphere is hospitable and they’re continuing to bring outstanding shows and events to the Sham.

All in all, this show was professional yet communal, absolutely fantastic and spellbindingly electric; if another comes along, I suggest you don’t miss out. But I must finish in thanking the Female of the Species and all involved for supporting such an amazing cause, and local girl; and to Carmela, you are a superstar.


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