There are some shows you know are going to be good as soon as they're announced, so good that the distance you have to travel to see them becomes immaterial. When you then make that journey and the show exceeds every expectation you had for it you realise you were at an event that is going to stay in the memory for ever.
The journey by train, rather than car, became part of the adventure to meet up with Neil King before heading to St Andrews Kinson, which is a beautiful church with a history stretching back almost 1,000 years - assuming there was nothing on the site beforehand. The church has had an interesting millennium, too, possibly at one stage being the centre of the local smuggling industry when "Brandy for the Parson, 'Baccy for the Clerk" didn't mean a trip to the off licence. Rumour has it that the bell tower came in very useful for storage.
The evening was introduced by Lee Cuff, of Kadia, who warmed the cockles of everyone's heart by announcing that there would not only be a raffle (the staple of folk music everywhere) but also home made cake during the interval. Now we knew it would be a good evening!
First up in this double headliner show was Emily Mae Winters, who is still considered a rising star. My personal view is that it will not be too long before she is described as a well established star which, given that her début EP "Foreign Waters" was only launched in July 2016, is impressive progress. That EP led to a host of nominations, awards and national radio plays which will probably be replicated when her début album "Siren Serenade" is released later this month.
Emily opened her set with "Blackberry Lane", which will also be the first track on the album. It's a beautiful tale of a young woman enjoying getting away from the smoke and dust of London to enjoy the simple pleasure of picking blackberries with her love in the countryside. The sell out audience, most of whom had not seen of Emily before, were instantly entranced by her voice that is so full of power, yet so perfectly controlled, that it draws you in to listen to every word. Every song in the set drew long and appreciative applause from the audience and part of the reason was range of music she played. "Blackberry Lane" is a very traditional folk song, but there are also elements of Americana and Irish music in her repertoire. The a capella version of "Down By The Sally Gardens" is one I've heard Emily sing many times but it always delights. It's a measure of how impressed people were that she sold all the albums she bought with her on the night and could have sold more.
She also charmed the audience with her stories between songs, particularly the one about recently failing her driving test because she rather impressively couldn't find to find the road Newmarket despite circling a roundabout three times before plumping for the exit that would take her straight into a traffic jam! That's the beauty of live music; you get to meet the person behind the microphone.
The end of Emily's set marked the interval and we all retired to the modern church hall to enjoy delicious cakes home-made by Jo Elkington. I also got the chance to speak to Rev. Lee Shirvill, Rector of St Andrews, and I was impressed by the passion he has for his church. In the short time he's been there its fortunes have been turned around with new electrics and restoration to the plasterwork, bringing this venerable building a new lease of life and putting it back at the heart of the community. It's a fitting place to listen to traditional song; the music and the church both go back in history but have a role in the present and a future to look forward to.
Part of that future for the music is new generations picking up the songs and taking them forward, not as museum pieces but as living, breathing parts of our culture that still have a resonance today. Dorset based Kadia are fine exponents of that art. Lee Cuff (cello and vocals), Chris Bailey (guitar and vocals) and David Hoyland (eight string ukulele, mandolin, percussion and vocals) have a unique sound based on fresh and sparkling arrangements, even when dealing with the folk staples of murder, death and general dark deeds.
The focus of the night was the launch of their EP "The Outlandish Collection". In just five songs they've picked a good variety of traditional English music, which would be an ideal introduction for anyone new to the subject as well as delighting anybody who is on more familiar ground. "Captain Ward" opened the set, as it does the EP, and is a proper old pirate tales of derring-do on the high seas. What is there not to like about a pirate song?
The "title" track of the EP is "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight", a version of the well known "The Outlandish Knight", a story of a cad who charms a lady into marriage for the dowry whilst plotting her death, as he has done to many previous spouses. This time, however, the tables are turned and it is he who is left to rot in the salty sea in a medieval version of Girl Power.
"The Keeper" also kept the audience amused with its innocent tale of a gamekeeper hunting does and enough double entendres to populate a Carry On film, again very much in the tradition of folk music where everything is inferred whilst nothing is said that could cause a maiden to blush. The contrived innocence on the faces of the band only added to the humour.
Once again each song, including plenty from début album "East of Alexandria", was warmly received by the sell-out audience who were thoroughly enjoying themselves. The sigh of disappointment as the last song was announced was real and heartfelt; none of us wanted the evening to end but luckily it was a slight tease. The raffle still hadn't been drawn! No, I didn't win.
Before moving on to the wonderful finale I have to give credit to both the sound and lighting engineers on the night. They, as much as the musicians, made this night special as they so often do. The quality of the sound and the lighting, which not only illuminated the stage but picked out and emphasised the chancel and alter, really added to the event.
Then came the encore with a twist. Emily returned to the stage to join in singing "Just As The Tide was Flowing". This is s strange almost love song of a sailor who meet a girl who tries to buy his affections. He, being a sailor, decides it's as good an offer as he's going to get to keep his mates in grog. The version sung was based on the song as collected in the Wimborne workhouse, not far from Bournemouth, around 1905 so that gave it a local resonance and the four voices worked so well together. Little did we know, at the time, that it was going to get even better.
The final encore involved the four leaving the stage and microphones behind, to sing "The Parting Glass" with only the delicate use of the cello for accompaniment. You had to be there to appreciate how absolutely beautiful the song sounded, I can do it no justice with words. It moved everybody in the building in a way that is only very rarely seen at a concert and it was a very happy and contented crowd that drifted off into the still of a Dorset spring night, knowing they had witnessed something exceptional.
Tony Birch:Words and Pics 2&4 Neil King Pics 1&3
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