Serendipity is the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. When it happens in music it is a happy event indeed. I went to the always good Folkroom Fortnightly primarily to see Iona Lane. She's from Lancashire so doesn't often get to play in London, but had managed to arrange a mini-tour of three dates, accompanied by her flautist Bess Shooter. The Harrison was the first night of the tour. The serendipity came when I realised that also on the bill were two bands I'd heard a lot of good things about but had never seen; We Used To Make Things and Patch & The Giant.
Iona is one of the young rising talents in music. Still only 18, and just left school, she has been producing EPs on a regular basis that have charted her growing talent and confidence as both a performer and composer. Being first up she had a set of just five songs but chose well to showcase her abilities.
The opening two songs came from her last EP "Solace", released earlier this year. 'Fly or Fall' is a charming song and reflects the uncertainties that many youngsters, about to leave school and head to Uni, must be feeling. 'Amsterdam', inspired by a school visit to the city, is probably her most impressive piece to date. The central motif was inspired by a phrase she saw at Anne Frank's house and written by her brother Otto. "To build a future you have to know the past". To take that one phrase, link it to place that is now known for it's night-life but has within living memory known such horror, and build a terrific song around it speaks volumes about Iona's ability. On the EP it builds into a full rock sound but on the night Bess Shooter's delicate alto flute gave it an appropriate sense of reflection.
Iona is still, rightly, exploring her musical preferences but as she showed in both 'The Loch Tay Boat Song' and an excellent cover of 'Who Knows Where The Time Goes' she can be a modern folk singer, nodding towards tradition but on her terms.
The final song of the night was a new piece, from an EP "Pockets" to be released in September. It will have a very limited release of just 100 physical copies and could well become a collector's item, so is worth chasing down. Live recorded in the studio, this time accompanied by Abi Plowman on fiddle, it will be a celebration of leaving school. The song played was 'The Leaving Song', appropriately, which again returns to the theme of life changing events and moving on from known to unknown. Whilst, having left school myself 39 years ago, I may not agree with the line "In forty years time we'll be past our prime" it is another excellent composition which really gives Iona a chance to display her fine vocal range.
As an aside five songs was not really enough to appreciate her full abilities so the following night I went to The Gladstone Arms in Southwark where Iona had two forty minute sets. I have to say the venue did not impress, although the performers did. It's a pub that has music rather than a music venue and sound quality was poor. Add in some drinkers who were not there for the music anyway and it was a tough gig, that could have rattled anybody. However, Iona and Bess got their heads down, battled through and started to win an audience, which was impressive. I'm sure it will not be long before Iona is playing the sorts of venues that deserve her and where she can really be appreciated.
Back to The Harrison, which is a good music venue with a listening audience, the second act of the night was Garon Wainwright. I can find no on-line presence for him, which is a shame, because I enjoyed his set of contemplative, thoughtful songs with more than a hint of Dylan and Guthrie to them. He's an unprepossessing performer who doesn't speak much but prefers to let his music do the talking.
That cannot be said of We Used To Make Things. This London based indie-pop band, appearing on the night as a trio, have plenty to say for themselves and dominate the stage. Formed in the shadow cast by the banking crisis and austerity, and writing songs that have been compared to The Divine Comedy, they focus very firmly on the world today.
'All Fucked Up' is a song about the absurdity of the world we live in and, like the Band's name which is used within the lyrics, talks about a Britain where society is changing and not for the better. It isn't just that the rich are getting rich and the poor poorer but children can no longer be allowed to play outside. It could be a song that becomes rather depressing but WUTMT draw on a lot of influences for their music. This track has the feel of The Kink's 'Dead End Street' to it, that gives it a lift and sparkle which only counterpoints the subject even more.
'Rachel' was, for me, the track of the set. This is a beautiful ballad again based very much in the here and now, of a girl who muddles through life. She's a very ordinary person, the sort who can be seen in their thousands during any rush going to their way to a job, in her case a call centre, which provides just enough money but very little else. "She's treading water like most of us do". There's a bleakness to the words, displaying the reality of life rather than the superficial gloss everyone from advertisers to reality shows would have us believe.
There wasn't a weak song or a filler in the whole set, the sign of a good band and it's no wonder they have been rightly described as "one of the best and most exciting live bands in London" by Laurel Canyon Music.
Headlining the night were Patch & The Giant, releasing the vinyl edition of their album "All That We Had, We Stole" which came out in February. They are another London based band, 5-piece although playing as a quartet on the night. They describe themselves as indie folk although, as so often, genres are blurred and used to good effect rather than rigidly adhered to. Patch & The Giant are regulars at The Harrison and, being on home turf, they were relaxed and comfortable which allowed not only their music but character to come through. They're a beautifully balanced set-up and being multi-skilled they have a grab bag of talent they use to good effect. Generally the music has an Irish tinged, yet country feel to songs primarily about relationships so again we heard stories at a level people can relate to.
'The River' is one such song, and very representative of the band's style. Not pure country of course, as Angie Rance accompanied the song on both accordion and trumpet though not at the same time. Patch & The Giant will also move away from their own material in an accomplished way, as they showed with a good cover of Dylan's 'Oh Sister'.
Not all relationship runs smoothly and lead singer Luke Owen gave us a good example. His then girlfriend, now wife, said that he never made eye contact with her during a gig. Unfortunately the first time he did, just before the wedding, was as he was singing the line "Hey, I'll only let you down." She doesn't tend to go to the shows any more.
Folkroom Fortnightly is a free entry gig held every other Wednesday at The Harrison, Harrison Street, Kings Cross which is a proper pub selling good food and beer upstairs. The venue is downstairs and is a very cosy, intimate space. The event is organised by Folkroom Records Stephen Thomas, normally MCs, along with Ben Walker. Stephen's introductions alone make it worth a visit. They aim to be more than just a record label, or a gig, but to foster a sense of community amongst both performers and audience. Although entry is free donations, which all go to the performers, are gratefully accepted.
Words & Photos: Tony Birch
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