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Leveret, The National Youth Folk Ensemble

Venue: The Met
Town: Bury
Date: 17/02/17

Not just any old Leveret gig, more of a detached opening to their upcoming tour proper, but one which allowed the chance to mark the debut of the National Youth Folk Ensemble. And why not also provide the support slot for a band who represent all they are aiming for in their prospective careers.

Introduced by their mentor and director, Sam Sweeney as "some of the best 14-18 year old musicians" who had been selected to become part of the ensemble. It's the culmination, so far, of work on a project set up by what Sam acknowledged as the "vision of the English Folk Dance And Song Society" and how good it feels to see an organisation in these times which has both the vision and the opportunity to provide financial backing; a rare commodity these days.

Seventeen strong, the NYFE played as a unit and in smaller sections, but worked best and sounded marvellous in their full ensemble when the sweep and swell of strings from half the band really lifted and carried the tunes. Maybe all dreaming maybe of growing up to be like the headline trio and encouraged, not surprisingly, by their mentors to take up the Leveret philosophy of 'playing as you go'; letting their ears follow the music, the music of the moment. It might have been as Sam mentioned, like having set of "seventeen children who'd just done their first day at school" following a week in Lancashire at the Girl Guide centre of Waddow Hall; talk of its teaspoon collection seeing the between song chat veer wildly off into stories of ghosts, teaspoons and living in convents (nun-less naturally) but it was the sort of chest swelling pride that saw Sam almost as excited as he was when he watched Spiro in the same venue at the 2014 English Folk Expo.

The main event saw another perfect execution of what's becoming the familiar Leveret musical method rooted in improvisation - not that you could ever tell - the lack of set arrangements their signature and to be frank, it's not so much about what the tunes are called or their origins, but the journey they are taken on. There may have been some 3/2 hornpipes, and a new one titled 'The Bluebell Hornpipe' but while it may have taken some time for some to get the hang of what they do, when their style becomes clear it's absolutely fascinating to watch.

The way the Sweeney/Harborn/Cutting trio work is both mesmerising and compelling - possibly even as much for them as the audience - how easy it is to become entranced as the trio weave and wind their way from a tune they've discovered from a dusty tome and given it a new life and a long leash to head off onto a new journey. Totally absorbed, watching each in turn becomes equally fascinating. Sam Sweeney, head back, eyes catching sight of something in the distance, maybe a glimmer of inspiration; on the other hand, he could be thinking about his shopping list like David Walliams' virtusoso pianist - any moment coming to an abrupt halt to as if there's anywhere local he can get a late night burrito. Restricted to a seat, the legs pump and he leans and sways, like the arcade machine "put in a penny and make the man dance", resisting the urge to get up and jump off something. Stage centre, Rob Harbon enveloped in a shroud of intense concentrating, allowing a little smile when they combine musically on something which hits his spot - belying the fact that on his knee is the humble concertina, his head gently dropping and lifting, swaying and following the flow. On the right flank, Andy Cutting is simply the consummate musician, smiling and making the music and the magic seem effortless; those close by provvy to the click clack of his fingers on the keys of his button accordion. The only thing missing is a set of cloaks, pointy hats and wands, instead, their musical instruments being the medium that cast the spell.

After producing two albums in two years, the next new challenge comes in the quest to record a new album of all original material and the tour will see the chance to try some of it out. While it seems a shame to set down on record what appears to take on such different cloak every night - that's the challenge and with the recorded Leveret set down for posterity, the deliaght remains in seeing them spin their magic in the live setting.

Words & Pictures:Mike Ainscoe

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