Mairearad Green, she tells us, lives in Ullapool. For those that don't know where Ullapool is, it's pretty near the top of Scotland. Not John O'Groats north, but not too far off. Her duo partner, Anna Massie, is based in Glasgow. Both are a good way from Bristol, where MAIREARAD AND ANNA started their five-date tour of the UK as they graced the stage at Downend for a second time.
The first was back in April 2016, so they tell us. Six years ago, almost to the day... far too long to wait to wait to welcome back two of Scotland's finest multi-instrumentalists (although this was originally scheduled for 2020 until you-know-what got in the way).
But as soon as the pair launched into their first tune-set (Retreats, a pair of marches; Anna's own Ellie's March and Ian MacCrimmon's MacRae's Delight) it's clear that it's been worth the wait... and, far be it from me to speak for them, but the journey too, as the crowd hit the whooping and hollering stage in record time.
Anna plays the guitar, and if there's a better player of her type on the folk scene at the moment, then I've not seen them. Her style is punchy and percussive, but with a beautiful lightness of touch at times. Her fingers fly up and down the fretboard with seeming ease. Mairearad Green plays the accordion with equally fast fingers, and repeatedly shows why all the best box players in the UK and beyond cite her as an influence and an inspiration. Together, the two instruments create a thrilling wall of sound as the pair treat us to a series of tune sets. Dagger Gordon's Campbell's Roup is a particular highlight, whilst the duo's take on Mo Chailin Dileas Donn is breathtaking. It was originally a song, when Ullapool's own Duncan MacKenzie wrote it, and a happy song at that... there's a sailor, he goes off to sea but no-one dies and there's no heartbreak. Mairearad and Anna have reimagined it as a tune... "It's in Gaelic," Anna explains, "and we'd just butcher the beautfful language."
Not that they don't sing. The tune sets are punctuated perfectly with a smattering of songs. Rick Taylor's Anything From You sets the tone in fine style, but it's She Loves Me (When I Try), originally by Dougie MacLean, that brings the lyrical highlight of the evening. The duo's voices complement each other perfectly... both possess a softness in their singing that is the perfect foil for the tune sets. And the magic is added to by their sharp wit... Anna, in particular, knows how to tell a story, including one about driving Dougie slightly mad by singing his own songs softly when in his presence.
There's even time for Mairearad to break out the bagpipes, for which Anna switches to fiddle. The first-half is brought to a rousing close as the pair treat us to the Coigach Reels, with Mairearad on the highland bagpipes, while the second; half gets off to a gentler start as Mairearad switches to the Scottish small pipes for the La Rachoudine set.
Downend Folk Club often feature some fantastic up-and-coming artists to open the evening's entertainment, and the standard always amazes me, but CHRIS ELLIOTT & CAITLIN JONES must surely be right up there with the very best we've seen. Hailing from Lichfield in Staffordshire, they kick us off with an engaging five-song selection. Chris is a particularly adept player of bouzouki and guitar, while Caitlin plays whistles as well as anyone we've heard. The pair both sing, too, and their close harmonies are goosebump inducing stuff.
Their set is a mixture of their own arrangements of traditional numbers and self-penned songs, with their take on Silver Dagger and their closing number Carry Me Home particular highlights. But the 25 minutes whiz by and the audience could certainly have listened to more from them; I've no doubt we'll see Chris & Caitlin again.
But the final word must go to Mairearad and Anna. Hopefully it won't be another six years!
Words: Bea Furlong
Photo: Barry Savell