CELTIC FLURRIES: Charlie with Jack
FOR Folk’s Sake is a monthly folk night based at Cup in the Northern Quarter, a cosy café venue with such comforting maxims as “Pies Are Nice” and “Tea Revives You” framed on the walls.
Ben Playford and The Spooky Boots are the first band to take the stage before the small boho crowd of band affiliates and musicians.
The first song stops unexpectedly with an expletive from Ben – some undetected error must have shaken the band off course, though the halt is greeted with good-natured laughter and onstage bonhomie.
After this the band soon find their stride, with Ben singing his bittersweet narratives with conviction atop the lilting, violin-led backdrop. The gentle, gossamer waltz of ‘Symmetry’ offers a musical departure from the jauntier numbers, with female backing vocals reminiscent of Ennio Morricone.
Next we have Freckles, a young girl from Lancaster who provides us with a spoken word performance of her poetry. Partially rooted in childhood mainstays like teddy bears and dolls, the performance edges towards tweeness at times but there are darker depths to Freckles’ surface sweetness.
Her evocative, elegant lines regarding doomed relationships and dead-end jobs belie her tender age – one to watch for the future perhaps.
Ottersgear are a duo comprising vocals and guitar aided by mandolin. With lyrics indebted to pastoral themes of forests and hills, their performance is a welcome combination of timeless authenticity and youthful energy.
The singer’s vocal acrobatics evoke Tim Buckley – precise, pure and leaping to graceful falsetto and back with ease, holding notes for aeons amid elegant bursts of mandolin. The crowd are gently rapt with this engaging display of proficiency, laying the foundations nicely for the final act.
At soundcheck Charlie Heys was giggling sweetly with embarrassment when testing her microphone before the assembled crowd, but playing with musical partner Jack McNeill her violin conjures an expansive orchestral sound of grace and beauty. There is a fantastic sense of dynamics as she flits between aching, lingering notes and visceral Celtic flurries.
Jack’s guitar and voice begin gently, providing subtle counterpoints to Charlie’s violin before his singing loosens to a throaty growl several songs in. His six-string virtuosity also creeps to the fore, covering considerable ground from devastatingly intricate picking to plangent chord strokes.
Quite the raconteur, Jack displays an easy humour as he explains the artful origins of his songs whilst canvassing for CD sales, so the hard-up duo can “sleep tonight in the cardboard box the CDs came in.”
This was an evening of great folk music that deserved a larger audience, though it felt a privilege to be part of this small and intimate crowd. Some of the musicianship was stunning, with varied acts of high quality and depth.
On this evidence For Folk’s Sake could easily become a bigger phenomenon, though whether that’s the intention isn’t clear – either way, get yourself to the next monthly showcase of folky talent.
Reviewed: Sat, 05 September, 2009