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Sarah Hayes

Venue: Electric Circus
Town: Edinburgh
Date: 04/08/16

Sarah Hayes is a prodigiously talented and highly respected singer and multi-instrumentalist from Northumberland. A former BBC Young Folk Award finalist, Sarah is currently based in Glasgow and, when not pursuing solo projects, she plays in indie-pop band Admiral Fallow, folk trio Wildings, folk quartet Northlands and a range of classical chamber groups. Her debut solo EP, "Mainspring", was released in 2013 and her first solo album, "Woven", received lavish praise from a range of music critics on its release towards the end of 2015. "Woven" is an elegant and boldly inventive suite of music and songs, resulting from a Celtic Connections 'New Voices' commission and themed around "how relationships and experience create our sense of identity, place and purpose across a lifetime". I was lucky enough to be present at a stunning live performance of the entire "Woven" album at Celtic Connections in January of this year, when Sarah Hayes was joined by the six-piece band which accompanied her on the album.

For her Edinburgh Fringe gig at Electric Circus on 4th August, Sarah Hayes was joined by two of her Admiral Fallow band-mates, Phil Hague on drums and percussion and Joe Rattray on bass.

Sarah's first involvement of the evening came at the end of support band Olympic Swimmers' entertaining set, when she joined their vocalist, Susie Smillie, onstage for a spine-tingling duet on the Neil Young classic, "After The Gold Rush", contributing a gorgeous flute solo too.

Sarah Hayes performed the first two songs of her own set solo at the piano, kicking off with an elegant and vibrant interpretation of the Nova Scotian folk song, "When First I Came To Caledonia", with the verses punctuated by a series of stirring piano breaks. Sarah's graceful and heartfelt vocals were showcased again on "Through Lonesome Woods", a traditional English song about misplaced love.

The tempo and volume went up a few notches as Phil and Joe joined Sarah on stage and the trio launched into "I Replied", the first of three new songs written by Sarah to feature in this set. This one fairly romped along, propelled by Sarah's compelling vocals and rhythmically powerful piano chords. By way of contrast, Sarah Hayes tugged at the heart-strings once more with an achingly beautiful vocal on "Freddie Matthews", which recounts the poignant story of a young man who died tragically at Hatfield Colliery in 1972 during the miners' strike, told from the perspective of his grieving but proud girlfriend.

Sarah Hayes' flair for interpreting and breathing new life into traditional songs was demonstrated yet again on "A Brisk Young Sailor", with more graceful piano underpinning her eloquent delivery of this tale of a young girl's anguish at the errant behaviour of a young sailor who has stolen her heart and sired her unborn child. This was followed by a beautifully understated cover of the enigmatic "Young Bride", a song by the Texan folk-rock band Midlake. A tender take on the Appalachian folk song "False Young Man" drew another moving vocal from Sarah Hayes. More dynamic piano chords provided the introduction to "Springburn", the second of Sarah's new songs, with the trio's tight and crisp playing negotiating the song's changes in tempo with aplomb.

In what was arguably the high point in a uniformly excellent set of songs, Sarah Hayes treated us to impeccable performances of two of the segments from her wonderful "Woven" album. Sarah's pure and tender vocals on "The Trees They Grow Tall" portrayed vividly the heartbreak of a young widow reflecting on the loss of her husband and the prospect of raising their baby boy on her own. Sarah's sprightly piano then ushered in the chant-like "Sair Fyel'd Hinny", featuring wistful vocals on this Geordie folk song lamenting the descent into old age. Sarah joked before this song that she would be singing in a traditional Northumbrian dialect rather than in tongues....This absorbing and exhilarating set ended on a high with the third new song, "Cave" (although Sarah did point out later that the new songs only have working titles at the moment). This provided further evidence of Sarah Hayes' developing talents as a lyricist and augurs well for her next solo album.

This was another sparkling set of songs from Sarah Hayes, demonstrating the full range of her talents as a singer, musician, composer and arranger. Sarah is a quietly charismatic performer, who engages the audience with warmth, charm and a ready wit. She continues to grow in stature and enhance her reputation as one of the most accomplished and versatile artists currently working in the Scottish music scene.

There will be another opportunity to hear a live performance of the "Woven" album at Edinburgh's Queen's Hall on 24th September. This comes highly recommended.

David Ferguson

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