Tuesday, 19 April 2016

supporting live music

As I said, we went out last night.  Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman were playing at the Colchester Arts Centre, with support by Kelly Oliver.  I think Kathryn Roberts has a superb voice, and Sean Lakeman is a good guitarist, so I was keen to go, and the Systems Administrator nobly agreed to submit to the Arts Centre's desperately uncomfortable chairs and come with me.

I'd never heard of Kelly Oliver before yesterday evening, though she has had some airplay on Radio 6 Music and Radio 2.  I was going to check her website last night when we got home, but AVG told me not to go there and I didn't feel that strongly about it.  She has some big supporters in the folk world, for she is not a local north Essex girl and Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman specifically asked for her to be their support.  She's done support for Cara Dillon as well, which is not such a coincidence as it might seem when you know that Cara Dillon is married to another of the Lakeman brothers, while Thea Gilmore and her husband and producer Nigel Stonier both worked on her album.

She was actually much better than most of the support acts at the Colchester folk club.  They tend to be local, and one has to be careful not to voice one's candid opinion of some of them in the Arts Centre because their friends and relations might be sitting in the next row.  I don't even know why the folk club has support acts.  I'm off to hear an up-and-coming early music ensemble in June, and I don't expect to get a local amateur madrigals group first as a warm up act.  As it is, the folk club doors open at quarter to eight, the musicians you have actually come to hear start an hour later, and you don't get away until nearly eleven, which is late for people with jobs to go to in the morning, last buses or baby sitters.

Anyway, Kelly Oliver can play the guitar pretty well, and has a decent voice, and I could hear almost all the words despite the slightly foggy acoustics of the Arts Centre.  She writes her own songs, which had coherent narratives instead of fuzzily emoting for ages while leaving me none the wiser what the singer is on about, and were rhythmically quite interesting.  I didn't instantly love her so much I bought the album in the interval, but I quite liked her.

That's the trouble with support acts.  There you are, you've been sitting in your uncomfortable chairs for an hour and haven't got on to the thing you came for.  Here we are, at least half way through the blog and I've barely got on to the main act.  They were really good, as I thought they would be.  Indeed, they are up for this year's Radio 2 Folk Awards Best Duo, which they won in 2013.  They sing a mixture of traditional and modern folk, including some of their own compositions, and they write pretty decent songs, maybe not stand-out brilliant songs like Martin Simpson's song to his father or Kevin Littlewood's On Morecombe Bay, but good well put together songs.

Some of their traditional material is magnificently rude (or earthy, as my English Literature O Level teacher put it.  One girl in the class got an A grade.  I was not that child).  Rude songs, and bloody ballads of ancient slights and terrible revenge, balanced out with the sad, the poignant and the sweet.  They have a good line in stage chat, relaxed, funny, and kindly.  They talk about their eight year old twins and their home on the edge of Dartmoor, and you feel that they would be fun people to have living just down the road.  And Kathryn Roberts has a great voice, rich and controlled.  She can slip from breathy innocence to full throated soul diva, and that's a rare trick in the folk world, where vocalists tend to be one trick ponies.  It may be a very good trick, but you know at the start of the evening that pure reedy warbling or emphatic gusto is all you are going to get.

Having heaped praise upon them, I have to admit that I don't have any of their albums.  I should really, but you can't buy everything, or indeed find time to listen to it.

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