When two performers who are making names for themselves as individuals form a duo there's always that question on how it's going to turn out. Will it actually be a duo, or two people combining their music? When I first saw Roswell in 2018 they were a work in progress; the talent was obviously there, as was the potential, so I wanted to see how far they'd come. The answer, based on the evidence from the launch of début EP "Remedy" to a sell out audience at The Camden Chapel, is they've made huge strides in just a short space of time and are a now a true duo who will be a force to be reckoned with in the years to come.
The Chapel actually is a former chapel within the Irish Centre, still with confessional boxes in situ, but now used as a venue with audiences limited to just 40 due to fire regulations. It also has an advantage that the bar is down several flights of stairs so the audience is there to listen to the music in an eclectic way. There are just a few chairs around the edge so most people lounge on scatter cushions on the floor. Add those elements together and you end up with an intimate space where everyone relaxes and the music is the focus. That suits performers such as Roswell perfectly.
Jasmine Watkiss and Zoë Wren are already well known on the independent / folk club circuit but a chance meeting at an open mic session late in 2017 launched the idea of a duo who have, in that short space of time, won Purbeck Valley Folk Festival's Purbeck Rising 2018 competition and had their début single 'Heaven Knows' selected for Fatea's Winter Showcase. The launch, and EP, show why they've made such an impact.
Both have excellent voices, across a wide range, as Jasmine showed on "Big Yellow Taxi" where she reached both the high and low notes at the end without effort but with a lot of control. They're able to weave their voices around each other in intricate harmonies, swapping pitches and changing leads which bring a huge dynamic to every song. Instrumentally they're also sound, with Zoë on guitar and Jamsine swapping between tenor ukulele and fiddle. The arrangements aren't over complicated and there's a minimum use of pedals, keeping the sound very clean. The presentation of the songs was very good, the audience was engaged and enjoying every moment and really appreciating what they were hearing.
They're also a duo in the sense of a partnership outside of the songs, where the stories and experiences are growing over time and are told with a real charm and honesty. The EP has five tracks on it, there should have been six and both were convinced they'd recorded that final track. It was only when mastering was finished they realised they hadn't, which probably says a lot about the pressure musicians are under in the studio. Whilst on the subject of recording, the album was produced by Zoë and Tristano Galimberti who also provided sound on the night. That was a good idea because if anyone knew what it was meant to sound like he would and he make a good job of it. Every note was crystal clear.
Roswell played two sets totalling 14 songs, almost sticking to the set list, and a well deserved encore, the previous mentioned "Big Yellow Taxi". The set opened with "Scarborough Fair" which had enough variation in it to be both familiar and different. There was a mix of songs, the EP obviously being covered, along with some good quality covers including "Dream A Little Dream" and several of Zoë's songs that she's brought to the duo.
The EP itself opens with Zoë's "London Town", a sweet story of love on the underground and night buses. We're never quite sure if the two characters, a hospital worker and a musician, get together but even the most hard hearted must be rooting for them. The first single from the EP "Heaven Knows" opened the second half and it's a good song. Poppy, but with wide appeal, it displays their voices well and the song has bridges and shifts gets your toes tapping and head nodding in time.
Roswell showed on the night what a wide appeal they have. They're going to be equally at home in a folk club or a venue and festival audiences will lap them up. They're already booked in to Wimborne Festival for the second year running, will be back at Purbeck as well. I'm sure there will be others in time because there's a new duo on the block and they're going to get even better.
The album will be available as a digital release on 31st March, but there are also physical CDs available.
The final word goes to the support artist on the night. Cheltenham's Demi Marriner https://www.demimarriner.co.uk/ charming set in the Americana / Country sphere impressed everybody. Demi is also one to watch out for, regularly supporting some big names but more than capable of holding the stage herself.
Words and Pics: Tony Birch
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