So, 11 years and 2 days on from their first E.P. launch and we have Katriona Gilmore & Jamie Roberts visiting Kent for the second time in three days as part of their extensive November/early December tour, a far more uplifting event than the current shenanigans involving certain Kent MPs.
With two long sets comprising material drawn from their two most recent studio recordings, The Innocent Left and Conflict Tourism, together with their contribution to award winning 2014 Songs From The Voiceless project, plus the added thrill of four new, previously unreleased, numbers, the welcoming audience were royally treated to a first-class evening of contemporary folk.
Over their career, the duo have received many accolades, including three times nominees in the BBC Folk Awards, and have toured extensively in both northern America and Europe, in addition to appearing at many of Britain's largest festivals. The reasons for this on-going success? Well, it could be simply the fact that they are so very good. With their musical abilities alone, Jamie guitar, Katriona violin & mandolin, this would probably ensure a high level of recognition, but add to this award-winning songwriting skills, (times two), luscious harmonies, a willingness to extend musical boundaries and a confidence and warmth of personality when performing live and you have an enduring, winning combination. Above all, however, is the fact that their love for what they do, "We are so lucky to be working musicians", so obviously shines through.
The first half licked off with two new songs. The first Bone Cupboard, was an eerie Katriona composition, inspired by the writing of Margaret Allen. Blues/gospel in feel, Jamie's Martin guitar strums, fed through effects pedals was the only sparse accompaniment to this atmospheric opener. In contrast, Jamie's Average Joe featured some feisty fiddle and rousing guitar lines in what, after one listening, is sure to become a live favourite. We were away, and already the indications were that this was going to be a special night.
Taken from Conflict Tourism, She Doesn't Like Silence, a lachrymal song relating to conflict of an internal kind was delivered plaintively by Katriona, the purity of her voice leaving the audience spellbound, before two powerful contributions from The Innocent Left gave a distinct change in pace to the proceedings.
Jamie's The Stealing Arm, the bizarre tale of the transplanted arm of a thief continuing its criminal work against the wishes of its recipient, (apparently "A niche genre."), and Katriona's Doctor James, the true tale of a Victorian doctor who, amongst other achievements, rose to the second highest medical office in the British Army, but carried a secret to the grave, both demonstrated the high-level songwriting skills of each performer, in particular in this narrative story-telling form, in addition to providing evidence of their undoubted ability in crafting music in a more traditional folk style.
The closing number before the break, Selfish Man, the true story of an aging biker's realisation of the cost to his loved ones of his 30 year pursuit, showed the power of Jamie's vocals and fully engaged the audience who delivered counterpoint-harmonies with full-voice. A memorable highlight amongst the evening's many.
Returning after the break, Jack O Lantern provided, given the date of this gig, an appropriate opportunity to regale those present with Jamie's interpretation of Halloween pumpkin carving, although he id inform us that it was a song played throughout the year. In addition to Katriona's soaring fiddle, this song provided Jamie with a further opportunity to display his dexterity, playing what has become almost a trademark feature, the lap-style percussive guitar.
Another new Katriona-penned song followed. All The Way To Rome, based on a nun's shady past with a priest "I would have followed you all the way to Rome" no less, had it all - achingly plaintive vocals, melancholy fiddle, tender harmonies. This mood continued with Billy Green, surely one of the best songs ever written about selflessness, and again most appropriate as Remembrance Day approached.
A return to the latest studio release's opening track, Cecilia, with its chopping mandolin, catchy chorus and Jamie's lap-style Takamine guitar fed through octave and freeze pedals, whilst not fully replicating the drum machine patterns of the recorded release, filled the hall with a full sound belying that which could reasonably be expected of a folk duo.
The final brand-new song unveiled tonight was a stunner. On The Line, inspired by a radio phone-in programme, was a delicate number with Jamie's picked guitar notes and lead vocals, whilst also being unique in that it is the first song in the duo's repertoire where Katriona does not play an instrument. (The arms, BTW, were fine.)
The opening track of The Innocent Left, the mighty Scarecrow/Elzick's Farewell, with its sinister lyrics and high-tempo, dynamic stomping beats left the audience baying for more, and they weren't to be disappointed.
Foregoing the stage and amplification, they returned to the floor of the hall for a memorable unplugged rendition of the beautiful Ghost Of A Ring, fittingly also the final track on the album (and possibly the last outing for Katriona's Morgan Munroe mandolin).
This was an enthralling evening's music provided by a duo clearly at the top of their game. Here's to the next 11 years (at least).
As a post-script, honourable mention must also be given to tonight's support act, Bond Of Union, an unaccompanied three-piece from the Brighton area. With songs ranging from trad.arr through to Elvis Costello and Billy Bragg, and with the recent departure of Coope Boyes & Simpson from the scene, these might just be the ticket to help fill a void.
David Pratt words & pic
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