Genre-defying acoustic duo Twelfth Day consists of Catriona Price from Orkney (fiddle and vocals) and Peebles-born Esther Swift (pedal harp and vocals). Since forming in 2006, while Esther and Catriona were studying together at Manchester's Royal Northern College of Music, Twelfth Day's instrumental virtuosity, beguiling vocal harmonies and bold and imaginative arrangements have earned them a reputation as one of the most innovative young bands around. Twelfth Day's previous two albums and two EPs were very well-received by fans and critics alike. For their third album, "Cracks In The Room", Twelfth Day have really stretched and challenged themselves, engaging the services of celebrated singer-songwriter Chris Wood as producer and sound engineer Oz Fritz (notable for his work with Tom Waits) to produce a very fresh, original and vibrant new sound. The previous folk and classical influences are still present but the music and song structures this time around nod in a number of different directions, reflecting the duo's extensive musical travels and exploration across four continents.
The intimate Traverse Theatre Bar provided a suitably warm and atmospheric setting for Twelfth Day's Edinburgh album launch gig on 9th April. Opening instrumental "False Electric" featured sparkling flourishes of harp and an elegant fiddle melody, producing an overall effect as refreshing as a light April shower. With its percussive, trippy and bluesy fiddle, stirring harp and vocal harmonies as fresh as a sea-breeze, "To Wait To Find" was a heady delight. Rhythmic harp and jazzy vocals gave "Stop Talking About It" an exotic bossa nova feel, with this song also notable for a series of soaring fiddle solos. The poignant and moving instrumental "Oma's" had been written recently as an affectionate tribute "to grannys everywhere". The bold and evocative "Beach" (from the 2014 album, "The Devil Makes Three") led us through some exhilarating musical twists and turns, courtesy of dazzling harp and fiddle interplay from the girls. Up next was an enjoyable romp through a cover of Morrisey's "You're The One For Me, Fatty" (a cover of Kanye West's "Street Lights" was also included later in the show).
Twelfth Day returned to the new album for the closing two songs of their first set, beginning with the edgily entertaining "Great Green", which delivered a towering and euphoric chorus. In one of a number of comical asides, Catriona noted that Esther had introduced this as an "angry song"….while smiling from ear to ear! In "Keep Searching", Esther's elegant and heart-warming vocals segued into rich vocal harmonies, before Catriona's delicate and haunting fiddle refrain closed out the song beautifully.
To get the second set underway, Catriona and Esther treated us to a sweeping, extended instumental, "Face To Face" (from 2015's mini-album "Shell Story"), which provided moments of inspired soloing and interplay. Two more songs from the new album followed, starting with "Gold and Swilling", featuring intense close harmonies and plucked fiddle, which somehow managed to incorporate the influences of African desert blues and American bluegrass. The rhythmic, quirky and highly original "Cracks" was a hugely entertaining tour de force, as a swinging 'Hot Club' fiddle motif and percussive harp set the scene for the girls to take turns in delivering playful and jazzy vocals which carried an edge of menace and occasional hints of mild hysteria….In complete contrast, Twelfth Day then showed their mastery of classical music forms with a stunningly beautiful interpretation of Schubert's "Romanze", sung flawlessly in German. With its criss-crossing rhythms and swooping and soaring vocal harmonies, "Olive Branch" (from the new album) veered in the direction of Malian blues, with Catriona's rhythmically plucked fiddle conjuring up a sound akin to the multi-stringed kora (lute-bridge-harp) played extensively in West Africa.
The title song from the second album, "The Devil Makes Three" began in enchanting lullaby fashion and then built gradually towards a dazzling, foot-stomping hoedown of a finish. To close the second set, Esther and Catriona took the tempo right back down again with "Another Phase In Time" (inspired by their Syrian friend Maya Youssef), in which the ambient ebb and flow of harp and shimmering fiddle ushered in another elegantly beautiful classical melody. The audience's enthusiastic acclaim was rewarded with an encore, in the form of "Young Sir", a modern and mischievous twist on traditional tales of damsels in distress. Following a gently lilting intro, this song flowed freely and joyously towards its satisfying conclusion.
This was a truly outstanding gig from Twelfth Day, who deftly blended highlights from the new album with a range of gems from their back catalogue. They have harnessed their wide range of experiences and influences to create a unique sound, characterised by compositional flair and imaginative arrangements. Catriona Price and Esther Swift have matured into highly accomplished and engaging performers and the exuberance and obvious enjoyment in their playing and singing is infectious. Coming on the back of a very strong new album, live performances of this high quality will surely earn them increased levels of recognition and popularity.
For the full Fatea Review of "Cracks In The Room". http://www.fatea-records.co.uk/magazine/reviews/TwelfthDay/
Words & Pictures David Ferguson
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