Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar

Venue: Bothy Folk Song Club
Town: Southport
Date: 13/12/15

In the four short years since they met, the progress of folk duo Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar has been nothing short of meteoric. In that short time, they have released two very well-received albums [with a third one on the way], an In Concert DVD and have won, not one but two, BBC Folk Awards [The Young Folk Award and The Horizon Award].

In between they have also participated in The Tweed Project [who played at The Atkinson here in Southport in August], whilst Ciaran has released an excellent solo album "The Final Waltz" on Fellside Records, which features another young up-and-coming artist, Sam Kelly on vocals and guitar. Meanwhile, Greg has been touring as a member of Nancy Kerr's superb Sweet Visitor Band, who also played at The Atkinson in November [my review of this gig can be found on the FATEA Live page].

Tonight saw Greg and Ciaran's debut appearance at The Bothy. Such is their reputation that the Club was full to capacity, despite the rival attraction of the wonderful Young 'Uns at The Atkinson [more about that later].

If Batman and Robin were known as The Dynamic Duo, that epithet would apply equally to Greg and Ciaran, such is the energy and passion they put into their performances. Their blend of fiery but melodic fiddle [Ciaran] and powerful vocals and guitar [Greg] is a joy to behold, bringing to mind such great duos as Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick or Robin and Barry Dransfield. Yes, they are that good.

Another appealing aspect of Greg and Ciaran is their choice of songs, many of which come from their families and friends or which they have heard in folk clubs. Both of them were brought up on folk music and it shows. For example, "Away From The Pits" [ "the best love song to come out of Stoke-On-Trent since Robbie Williams' "Angels", they joked] was written by Ciaran's dad Chris, whilst "Davy" is based on a song which Greg's dad used to sing to him [with new lyrics from Greg].

Greg also wrote the song "The Queen's Lover" [the title track of their first album] whilst revising for his history "A" Level. In fact, his history teacher actually used the song as a revision aid for his pupils !

Another great choice of song was "The Dancing" which Andy Shanks and James Russell wrote, based on the memories of Kirkcaldy miners.

From traditional sources, Greg and Ciaran gave us their spirited [!] arrangement of the Child Ballad "Two Magicians", which they learned from the singing of Vicki Swann and Johnny Dyer.

The instrumental prowess of this impressive duo was amply demonstrated in the set of tunes called "George's", which was named after George Hunter-Brown who engineered their second album "The Call". This set starts off at a gentle pace with Phil Cunningham's lovely slow waltz "Miss Rowan Davies" before picking up speed and rushing headlong into the traditional Irish reel "The Crooked Road To Dublin". Ciaran's fiddle playing was outstanding, which is not at all surprising, considering that he has been both All Ireland Champion and All Britain Champion by the age of 16.

As a preview of the new album, we had "The Silent Majority", an excellent song about those who stand by and say nothing whilst atrocities are being committed. On this song, Greg played a guitar that he had made himself [it took him 96 hours to complete, he told me].

At the end of Greg and Ciaran's set we had a surprise. A very nice surprise, in fact, when The Young 'Uns appeared, having hot-footed it from their gig at The Atkinson.

The Young 'Uns joined Greg and Ciaran on stage for a stunningly beautiful rendition of the Appalachian spiritual "Bright Morning Star", a most fitting and seasonal way to end a great evening of music and song.

If artists like Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar and The Young 'Uns are the future of English Folk Music, then the future looks rosy indeed.

Peter Cowley

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