Sunday, 19 February 2012

A Night With Perfect Folk: Review.

Thursday 16/02Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman with support from James Findlay.

Arriving at The Musician I was surprised at the relatively small size of the venue. I wasn’t expecting it to be anything other than a pub but I was expecting somewhere a little bigger. However, this certainly didn’t detract in any way from the wonderful night of music that followed. If anything the even more intimate ambience it served to create married superbly with the nature of this particular gig by the experienced and very talented married duo. The Musician reminded me very much of The Hotel Cafe I went to in L.A. in 2010 after repeated suggestions from Tom Mcrae (I did also attend the Hotel Cafe Tour in 2008). We need more of these kinds of places throughout the UK. Somewhere for the smaller yet just as important (as the bigger) gigs. 

There was a very quiet young man sitting next to us who had a large bag filled with cameras at his feet. ‘Photographer,’ we thought until at about 20:30 he got up and walked onto the stage immediately in front. I’d noticed he was a little nervous beforehand but nerves didn’t show once he started his set. Beginning with a warm up for his voice sans instruments James told us he’d only just thought of doing as he was sitting amongst us. His set list included a host of traditional folk songs both inspiring and jolly, sad and melancholic but all sung with a gusto indicative of a lifelong love for folk music joined with a confident yet not at all cocky approach to the guitar. He played one incorrect chord somewhere within one of the early songs which he jested about with the audience who laughed alongside him. This is a young talented musician to watch out for. Already with two fantastic albums out (both of which I purchased on the night) he mentioned a third and speaking to him briefly after the gig showed excitement about its forthcoming completion. He also played the violin for one song managing to do what I'm sure isn't unusual amongst folk folk (forgive me), but what I've only seen Seth Lakeman do before, singing in perfect time to the music with an added jig here and there. Superb!

After a short break Kathryn and Sean took to the stage for the first half of their set. Kathryn's voice is note perfect and so beautiful it carries me not just to a place I really want to be but to a place  I  want to stay so I can listen to her forever because life would be complete with the auditory elegance she bestows. I’d only seen her and Sean once before at Beautiful Days last year although as a prolific and highly skilled guitarist Sean has been in bands I've seen at least three times over the previous eighteen months. It was at a Seth Lakeman gig last May (where Sean was playing guitar) where I was first introduced to their music purchasing their second album as I'd already bought all of Seth's. 

One of the best purchases I’ve made although I am still eager to get my hands on a CD of Kathryn's collaboration with Kate Rusby. I can only imagine the absoluteness of tranquillity this would carry with it leaving my ears desperately craving the sound. The harmonies of that pairing must sound like a morning in perfect springtime as the dew lies heavy on the grass. There's an ever so slight chill in the air but one that blows away the dust of winter and is soon washed away by the early morning Sun bursting through the lone grey cloud, leaving behind it a clear blue sky. Birds cheap. Squirrels look puzzled. Hedgehogs quickly retire to their daytime slumber. Although if these two were singing the soundtrack to such a breaking of the morning the hedgehogs would not be retiring. The Squirrels would not look puzzled and the birds would be silent listening in awe, little beaks open wide (I'm digressing, apologies).

The banter between the married couple is as genuine as it is entertaining. Kathryn introduced each song often in the form of a personal story explaining how they'd come across it (if not written by them), why they felt it deserved its place either on their set list or albums and how they may have changed it from its original form.  At one point to introduce Huldra she talked about British folklore and how scary it can be with stories ending badly yet how such tales do seem to teach children to avoid certain grisly dangers. This led to an explanation of a Scandinavian cautionary folk tale about women who prey on men in forests. Enticing them in for sexual intercourse they reward those who satisfy them but often kill (or maim and do other nasty torturous things to) those who don't. Think the alien woman from Species and you'll be along the right lines. 

Kathryn sang Huldra beautifully in spite of the gruesome lyrics. This is what she does so very well with her voice. She breathes such a richly theatrical life upon often such very gloomy songs infusing them with such a soul they grab you by your heart pulling on your emotive strings long after they're finished.

'So, anyone fancy a holiday in Norway?' She asked after the applause ceased. Well, yes that’s actually where I’m planning this year's trip, incidentally. I shall stay away from these Huldra for I would most certainly be doomed.

Speaking of their now 5 years old twins she introduced her own favourite folk song from when she was that age. They had a sing song at nursery and Kathryn was called in for a word. There were lots of nursery rhymes and twinkle little stars but one of the twins chose the 9 verse ballad of Barbara Allen. (I remember we sang this at school in the choir. I say choir but being school kids the majority of us no doubt sounded like a group of constipated badgers on crack). This led to a shortened version of Lord Gregory by Maddy Prior & June Tabor, a song that was on Kathryn and Sean's first album together.

Another song and one she crafted herself was The Ballad of Andy Jacobs. This is a poignantly sad song based on her childhood memories of the miners strike during the 80's. It tells the story of a man who like the majority of men in northern mining towns and villages was really put to the test by the rapidly changing times, not least by the devastation these changes left in their wake. While effectively a commentary on the times the end result is a wholly personal tale. 'Oh Cassie, Love.' 

The fact both this and Huldra will be on the forthcoming album only makes me more excited for when it does come out. I would pre-order it now if I knew how (Note to self: find out how).

It’s true there are many folk songs that don’t have choruses but so what? Those that do really make up for it and the audience were encouraged to sing along to them. Those such as The Granite Mill, which claims the highest body count of the evening (300 all in one go) enticed people to sing along. As did Lifetime of Tears.

Red Barn sings out the story of a murder from 1827, a song on their second album. This is what would happen, people loitered outside the courts hearing the details of cases and jotting them down, producing pamphlets with ballads on them. Using her dad’s 3rd best flute stuck together with tape as Kathryn's was unsalvageable thanks to a lego man’s head stuck inside that couldn’t be freed in spite of it being completely deconstructed.

There was also much talk about Devon life, or rather the fact nothing much happens. Except for the annual village fair the first weekend in June each and every year. Sean added this was to ensure the residents spread the gene pool at least a little for survival purposes which invoked laughter from the crowd. The biggest news, Kathryn explained, was the time she chased a pig up the road not wanting it to get hit by a car, then getting chased by it herself. Sean completed the story explaining how later that very same day they heard the pig being shot by the slaughterman next door to whom it belonged.

The entire selection of songs tell vivid stories invoking striking images to match the majestic voice singing and the skilled guitarist playing them. I'm certain the imagery they bring to mind is only achieved via the sheer exuberance of the vocals.

As good as their set at Beautiful Days was last August this was an opportunity to see them play even more songs. It was a real treat. At the end Kathryn commented on how relaxed we’d made them feel hoping they hadn't come across too relaxed. Not in a bad way as it was more like what is becoming my ultimate cliche thing to say, 'It was more like we were round their house just chilling with them playing some folk tunes for us.' Although in this case it was literally like we'd all just gone to the pub together for a friendly social get together.

My only issue, which is effectively my own fault anyway, was that they didn't play one of my top favourite songs, Rule and Bant from their second album. I say it was my own fault because they happily take requests from people and I didn't ask so I didn't get. This means I will hopefully be arranging to see them again before the year is out and I will definitely be getting my request in.

Videos: First video is Joe Peel from the first album. Please forgive my visuals as this was taken on my phone. Just listen to the guitar and voice though!!
The Second is Jackie. These first two videos are from this gig while the third and fourth were filmed at Beautiful Days 2011.
The third is Red Barn which I guess would feature one of the last appearances of Kathryn's own flute. The one that got bested by a Lego man.
The fourth and final video is of Gerogia Lee. This is an often requested song if it doesn't feature on their set list and you can understand why just hearing the vocals on it. Please forgive my rubbish camera skills.

Music of the moment:

It really is difficult to be so selective here and summarise two or three bands/artists. Whatever I put below is important in that it really does have my attention at present. However I do listen to a lot of music as much as I can so there are often many more bands/artists I have on the go at any one time.

1) They've featured twice already but having just released a new EP entitled Alone In Berlin One Cure For Man. You seriously need to check them out. Unique beautiful vocals married with some pretty amazing guitar playing. This is a band to watch!

2) Another one already mentioned but listening to the album The Water's Edge again twice in the last two days it is Luke Ritchie

As for books, I have to admit I have bought Life Knocks by Craig Stone. This is the prequel to The Squirrel That Dreamt of Madness. Please see the last blog entry for my review of that book. Reading the review you will come to understand why I had to buy it straight away and also why I've already started reading it. It is going to be awesome, I can tell just from the opening.


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