Towards the end of their first set The Georgia Lewis Band play a version of The Raggle Taggle Gypsies. It is full of love, passion and wildness. A song to blow away the mundane and the ordinary. A song for dreamers and seekers. It was a song that perfectly summed up this Autumn evening.
GEORGIA LEWIS is a piratical storyteller, a tangle haired buccaneer. She steals songs and holds them to ransom, forces them to walk a plank, wrings every last drop out of them. Her voice is pure, strong and utterly free and has justifiably won several “Future of Folk” awards. For four minutes at a time she becomes a new character, grasping at air, gazing after her lost loves and searching for freedoms.
It is, however, the unaccompanied voice that takes all of the gold this evening. For much of the evening she finds a willing foil in Rowan Piggott. He's a violinist with a voice of the highest tone. When this band catches fire it's the times that he adds a spark to the gunpowder that Lewis provides. When they sing together they create something that is pin-drop beautiful. The Gaelic poem, I Am Stretched on Your Grave, is heartbreakingly sad but intensely beautiful. As the two voices harmonise towards the end of the song so a tragic yearning is uncovered. It is performed to absolute silence. It is gorgeous.
Equally gorgeous is a version of Another Man's Ground. It is, equally, just the two voices telling a well-worn story and it is wholly affecting. In lots of ways it's hard to work out why there's a band here at all. With Georgia Lewis' accordion and whistle and Rowan Piggott's violin they surely have all that they could possibly need.
And then all five band members come together and it becomes perfectly clear. An Appalacian take on The Factory Girl swings delightfully. Andy North’s piano gives even greater poignancy to the extraordinary Must I Be Bound, which is dedicated to mental health heroes MIND, and Finbar Magin’s Spanish guitar conjures a little more exotic wildness for The Brown Girl.
The evening has a poetic thread that runs through it. The title of Georgia Lewis' new album is The Bird Who Sings Freedom. The title track is a Maya Angelou poem; it’s a cry for freedom. The words are delivered with a fevered reverence but with that, now familiar, desperate yearning to be free.
The twin threads of poetry and unaccompanied voice are first seen in the support act for the evening. ROSIE HODGSON is an absolute revelation. A traditional singer from West Sussex, she sings old songs, including a lovely version of Kipling’s A Tree Song/Oak, Ash and Thorn, with a velvet voice, one flecked with Autumnal colours. She adds splashes of guitar but it's her voice that truly adds the magic. The remarkable Rowan Piggott pops up on two songs too.
In both voices there is love, passion, wildness and freedom. There is nothing better on an Autumn evening to help you escape the ordinary.
Words: Gavin McNamara
Photo: Alan Cole
Our Autumn/Winter programme continues apace back at our Frenchay Village Hall HQ this month with a visit from one of the most highly-rated young singers on the scene, and a rare chance to see her full band line-up.
GEORGIA LEWIS is folk singer and avid accordionist from the depths of Wiltshire. In 2015 she released her self-titled EP. Since then, she has performed at many folk clubs and festivals in the south of England, in solo, trio and band line-ups, and received air-play on various national radio stations including the BBC Radio 2 Folk Show and the esteemed Mike Harding’s Folk Show. In 2015 Georgia won The Future of Young Folk Award at Bromyard Folk Festival and won the band competition at Ely Folk Festival in 2016.
Her debut album The Bird Who Sings Freedom saw Georgia hailed as the best voice to emerge from the English folk scene in recent years. Well-worn traditional songs sit alongside two originals, together with an AE Housman poem and, opening the album, a setting of the words of Maya Angelou. Throughout, Georgia seeks the timeless themes in old words. Stories of love and loss, conflict, betrayal. A nomination in the Horizon category at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards followed in 2018.
Georgia will be joined on-stage at Downend Folk Club by her full band, featuring Rowan Piggott (fiddle), Finbar Magin (guitar), Andy North (keys) and Tom Sweeney (double-bass).
Opening the evening’s entertainment will be ROSIE HODGSON, a folk singer/songwriter from Midhurst, West Sussex. Having grown up surrounded by traditional music (and dancing with Knockhundred Shuttles!), her voice possesses a naturalness and maturity, bringing "a ruby-richness to lyrics new and old". (Folk Radio UK). After winning the newcomer competition at Ely Folk Festival in 2011, Rosie worked hard to carve out her niche on the UK folk circuit. She released her EP Somewhere North in 2012 and has since played numerous festivals and folk clubs across the land. In 2013 she was nominated as a finalist for the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award before joining the up-and-coming London-Irish band CrossHarbour, who subsequently released their eponymous debut album.
Rosie is currently touring her debut album Rise Aurora with fiddle-singer Rowan Piggott.
Tickets for the event, which takes place at Frenchay Village Hall on Friday 18th October 2019, are available from MELANIE'S KITCHEN or online HERE. They are priced at £12 each in advance (£10 for members), or £14 on the door. There will be a full bar, stocking locally-brewed real ale from Hambrook-based GREAT WESTERN BREWING CO., along with cider, soft drinks, wine, hot drinks and also locally-made NAUGHTY BROWNIES. There will be a raffle with prizes including CDs, gift boxes of beer and sweet treats. You are encouraged to bring your own glass/mug/tankard/bucket, as well as reusable bottles for water, as part of the club’s drive to be more environmentally aware. There will now be a 50p surcharge for disposable glasses.
Now, look. Hang on. Just wait a cotton-pickin' minute. THIS is not how your average folk gig is supposed to go. There’s laughter. There's an almost complete lack of songs about murder and/or drowning. Almost no one has said “this was collected from Nether Wallop in 1872”. There are no tortured allusions to Br*xit/the difficulties of the working man. There are proper love songs. This is FUN. In fact MIDNIGHT SKYRACER's super-charged British Bluegrass isn’t really folk at all. Yet they leave Downend Folk Club almost speechless.
How good are they? There are almost no words.
Three parts Anglo to two parts Irish, Midnight Skyracer start at full tilt and don't really let up. Tracks from their debut album Fire blend seamlessly with smoke-aged Bluegrass classics by the likes of Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs. Seamlessly is the word, you can't see the join, can't tell where the old leaves off and the new starts. Every single song is utter perfection. This is (American) folk music to keep your feet tapping and your soul smiling. And some of it is just so fast, so assured.
But, oh my, how this band plays. They are, surely, the best British Bluegrass band that there's ever been. To be honest they are as good as ANY Bluegrass band you've ever heard. If the Steve Earle/Del McCoury Band album The Mountain is as good as this sort of thing gets then Midnight Skyracer are as good as that. If I'm With Her are one of the best of the current American Bluegrass bands then this lot are easily as good (and much better live).
If anyone fancies themselves as a bit of a guitar player then they probably need to see Charlotte Carrivick live. And then seriously reconsider their own talent. No one is that good. Charlotte's twin sister Laura is also simply remarkable. Imagine the family parties! Laura plays dobro and violin, sings and is, by her own admission, truly hopeless at counting her bandmates in! The two main singers, Leanne Thorose and Tabitha Benedict, are what ever the Appalachian version of Yin and Yang are. One is all snarl and growl, sass and smarts, the other is sweetness and light. Old-timey loveliness pitched against the moonshine. You could listen to either for ever but when they sing together… oh, there are no words!
By the second half of the set the new songs are coming thick and fast. A new album is forthcoming and if it's going to be as strong as Shadows on the Moon would have you believe then it's going to be stunning. This song, written by insanely talented double bassist Eleanor Wlikie, has the lightest of touches, a future Bluegrass/Country radio classic. It's got to be great because the next song, I Still Miss Someone, written by the incomparable Johnny Cash, isn't really as good. I mean, it's still brilliant but…
So many of these songs snap and crackle with proper pop cleverness. Check A Little Luck for something so simple but so wonderfully, ear-catchingly brilliant. You’ll be humming it for ages. Even this, though, doesn’t match up with the “train songs, played fast, in the key of B”. There are several of them this evening and So Long, Goodbye, We’re Through is the best. So fast, perfect harmonies, glorious Bluegrass instruments hurtling to a finale. It’s just… it’s just…
The opening act of the evening was CHARLIE LIMM. Infused with classic 70s folk vibes she was everything that you need. A high, delicate voice with a talent for storytelling, Charlie charms everyone in the place. Her take on Beeswing is fabulous but many of her own songs show a confidence and a knack for writing a decent song. Old Smoky, in particular, conjures memories of London. Good stuff.
How good were Midnight Skyracer? Genuinely, there are no words. They were… umm… err…just... incredible.
Words: Gavin McNamara
Photo: Graham West
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