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Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin

Venue: Acoustic Sessions At Stanley Halls
Town: London
Date: 18/03/17

'Acoustic Sessions At Stanley Hall's made a clear statement of intent when they announced their 2017 bill that the venue is determined to become a serious name on the folk and acoustic circuit. Continuing with this ambition, Phil Henry & Hannah Martin were the latest in a string of big names on the UK acoustic scene to play at the venue. The duo was immediately entranced by the beauty of this unique venue with its wonderful acoustics and dramatic main hall, and this was clearly reflected in their enthusiastic and spirited performance. The Acoustic Sessions team prefer to use a temporary stage at floor level rather than the hall's main stage; with a back lit translucent back drop to the stage and full in-house theatre lighting and PA, the team have produced a professional, high quality production level while retaining an intimate feel that few other similarly sized venues can match and this has gone down very well with both artists and audiences alike.

Playing to an enthusiastic crowd, Henry & Martin opened the first of two sets with 'Silbury Hill', a stand out track from their award winning 'Mynd' album. Telling of a journey across Salisbury Plain to London, the track seemed appropriate for this Devonian duo playing their first show at this London venue. Hannah Martin has an extraordinary voice and vocal range, capable of moving fluidly from soaring melody to rich, deep resonance, which many have compared to June Tabor and she displayed it well in this opening track. Giving notice of an upcoming new album, the pair moved into the first of a number of new songs, 'No Victory', which moved from the dreamy folk of the opener towards the more muscular Americana / folk cross over for which the duo have become so well known.

Hannah Martin's very English folk sensibilities combined with Phil Henry's Americana and Indian influences results in a heady brew. Phil's strong rhythmic instrumentation and blues tinged slide work underpins their work, whether on Dobro, Weisenhorn, Chaturangui (a 22 stringed type of slide guitar from India), harmonica, stomp box or beat box. A solo performance on harmonica titled 'Underground Railroad' was his uncanny impression of an American steam train and an extraordinary demonstration of his mastery of rhythm and melody to tell a story with just an instrument that fits in the pocket and his own breath. So lifelike was the simulation that Casey Jones himself seemed brought to life and one could almost smell the soot and steam.

The second set opened with 'Watershed', the title track of their most recent album. Also an adept multi-instrumentalist in addition to taking the lead vocal for most of the performance, Hannah Martin swaps between banjo, fiddle, tenor guitar, her fiddle particularly adding a strong counter melody that invokes a sense of. She also had a new addition to her armoury, the Shruti Box, a drone instrument of Indian origin that added another layer and further justifies their description of themselves as playing "world music from the West Country". With such a range of instruments between them, they are able to vary pace and tone throughout the set making for a dynamic and richly powerful show that few other duos can match. Hannah Martin is an intriguing song writer, taking evocative themes and influences from all around her as she travels, ranging from the quirky 'Song ForThe Jay' celebrating birds that hold funeral services for their dead (who knew?) to more charged subjects such as 'Yarls Wood' which takes as its subject the notorious contemporary Immigration Removal Centre but focuses on the human dimension. This fits well with their cover of a 19th Century protest song 'The Nailmakers' Strike', a staple of any Henry and Martin performance and which concluded the second set, sung with a power and depth of feeling that contrasts with some of the more introspective songs. The encore was a rousing version of Union Station's 'The Boy Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn' that built in intensity and pace towards a dramatic climax and joyous ending that left the audience baying for more.

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