I have a theory that most folk paying to see a live music event of any genre often fall into one of two categories. Firstly those who will only go see "name" or "well-known" orchestras, bands, performers or artists and secondly those who are willing to take a punt on someone who falls into either the lesser known or even unknown category. I would like to think that I fall firmly into the latter, and over many years have been richly rewarded by following this policy. Thus it was that I was happy to venture out to see The Watergrain Band, of whom I had little previous knowledge.
Hailing from deepest Kent, the quartet comprises Ben Paley on violin, Pip Ives concertina, melodeon and vocals, Geoff Sandiford double bass and vocals, together with Martin Young, songwriter, guitar, cittern and vocals. The group, named after Martin's 2013 solo CD Watergrain, tonight brought to life their own take on a variety of themes, both old and contemporary.
Performing their latest release Where The Sunset Meets The Sea in its entirety, together with tracks from Martin's solo Botany Bay and aforementioned Watergrain CDs, (nothing from The Climbing Boy), meant that there was a good mix of Martin's own compositions and interpretations of traditional fayre to be heard over the evening.
Starting off with Dylan Bustin's Rolling And Flowing, the group moved straight into the opening track from Where TheSunset..., Worry People/From Night 'Til Morn, the fusion of one of Martin's compositions with an arrangement of a traditional tune. Wolves, from Watergrain followed, before a change of tempo had the audience foot-tapping along to a set of traditional tunes, Black Joak/Valentines, the former a John Kirkpatrick arrangement, with Pip's infectious playing to the fore. The ensemble's rendition of Jim Jones Of Botany Bay, the second track from Botany Bay, was competently performed, but there is stiff competition from other versions, for example those by Bob Dylan, Martin Carthy and Jim Causley.
The linking of Martyn Wyndham-Reed's setting of Declaration with a Belgian waltz Wals Voor Polle worked well, before Farewell to Work, dedicated to Iain Duncan-Smith, gave a reflection of perceptions of the world that frequently pervade Martin's lyrics. Another set of rousing tunes by Simon Ritchie, Thaxted Square/John Hunter's, led to another change of style and tempo as the band delivered the title track from their eponymous CD, before finishing the first set with a medley of the traditional Rout of the Blues with the poignant Friends, concerning a Gulf War hero awarded the George Cross rather than the Victoria Cross, as his bravery took place as a result of "friendly" as opposed to "enemy" fire.
The second half of the show opened with Flowers and Fresh Lavender and was followed by two tracks from the latest CD which again showed the diversity of the group's repertoire, with the bluegrass New Railroad, contrasting sharply with the Sir SydneySmith/ All In A Garden Green tunes which again gave Pip full rein.
Martin's version of Bold Lovell, in which the treacherous girlfriend spikes the hero's gun with water, (can this be effective?), which I first heard performed by Roy Harris, was delivered with gusto, as was Rambling Preacher, one of Martin's own, from Botany Bay. Their version of Allan Taylor's The Morning Lies Heavy, whilst not particularly adding anything new to the original, was well-received, as was Dear Duane, before once again the band shifted gear with a set of two Canadian tunes Lemonville/Hot Potato.
When Martin avers that "We are not about protest songs....these songs... are about chronicling a moment in time", this was perhaps well-exemplified in the lyrics of the following two songs, Everybody Wants A Piece Of Jesus and Bin Laden's Grave.
Returning for an encore, we were treated to Leave Them A Flower, written by Wally Wyton and one of the first ever conservation anthems, a track which appears on both Where The Sunset... and Bowstring's, (Martin's Ceilidh/Barn Dance Band), Vinnie's Return CD, and unfortunately still seemingly as relevant today as when it was first released in 1969.
So was I vindicated in taking a punt on this occasion? The answer has to be yes. The Watergrain Band did not disappoint. Their musicianship was of a high standard, with the fiddle and concertina/melodeon combination being particularly effective. Pip's proficiency was much in evidence and Ben's reputation and talent semed fully justified on tonight's performance, (check out his contribution to A Small Bit Of Love by The Saw Doctors), although, for me, he was too low in the mix, a view also shared by one or two sat around me. Despite one or two occasions where Martin's voice appeared to falter, the vocal harmonies were very pleasing on the ear. In the best Monty Python tradition, one may ask "What has Kent ever done for us?" Well, in addition to fruit and hops and oast houses and Canterbury Scene Bands and Shepherd Neame Ales and the very first white roadlines, is it now time for The Watergrain Band to be added to the list?
Trivia footnote: Wally Whyton was a member of The Vipers skiffle group, so was Ben Paley's step-dad.
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