Just as the set was ending the tiny, elfin girl peered out into the packed Frenchay audience; "That was about an eight a half", she said encouraging the faithful to sing, "You guys look like an eleven to me." We sang. She was right. We were an eleven.
The girl was Katriona Gilmore, the female half of Gilmore & Roberts; she sings, plays mandolin and violin. Jamie Roberts is more substantial, more Northern and he plays the guitar. Together they make just about the most perfect modern folk that it is possible to imagine. They have been nominated for countless BBC Folk Awards and, this year, stand a pretty good chance of winning the Best Duo award. If they walk away with it it will be richly deserved.
From the very first tune, "Doctor James", it's pretty obvious that these two have honed their skills and paid their dues. Years of playing the folk circuit and pitching up at every folk festival you care to name has made them tight as anything. The Devil-Went-Down-to-Georgia style violin cavorting about all over the thumped guitar and making the most glorious noise. It's danceable, it's exciting, it's just damn good. The fact that the song is about the death of a female doctor who had to impersonate a man in the dim and distant past makes it about as "folk" as you can get too.
From there it's just a giddying, dizzying mix of styles. From mini epics, laden with intricate chord and tempo changes through wintery acoustic tunes, from chart baiting folk pop through rousing dance tunes, all bases are covered by two ridiculously watchable musicians. There's even the merest hint of country at times, proving that country music is nothing but American folk. When Gilmore breaks out the mandolin there's something Bluegrass about it all. In "The Stealing Arm" fabulous story telling combines with a stomped beat and gently picked country line to great effect. It's just amazing.
At times there's something cracked and ghostly about Katriona Gilmore's voice. It could, of course, be that she's got a bit of a cold but the strained, rough edges lend a bit of dirt to some of the polish. Nowhere is this more affecting than on "Ghost of a Ring", played entirely unplugged to a total hush, it is gentle, heartfelt and honest and taken from their latest album "Conflict Tourism"..
Gilmore and Roberts might be about to be crowned Folk's Best Duo but you have to wonder how long it will be before the support band for the evening are afforded the same honour. Susie Dobson and Joe Futak are Downend's very own and they were delightful. Only seventeen and clearly nervous, by the end of their short set they had found an entire roomful of new fans. It was a set filled with cover versions. Had they been ancient things, filled with swooning maidens and Trad Arr they'd be lauded by the folky chin-strokers. As it was they plundered their own record collections for songs by Anais Mitchell, Passenger and The Staves. Dobson has a powerful, expressive voice that already seems wonderfully flexible and in Futak she's found a perfect foil. If they're not back at the Folk Club soon there might be some sort of (very quiet) riot.
Gilmore & Roberts? Dobson & Futak? They look like an eleven to me.
Gavin McNamara photocredit Chris Dobson
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