Venue: The Valley Folk Club
Town: The Ivy Bush Hotel, Pontardawe
Dates: 18/9/15


Venue: The Falcon Inn
Town: Cwmaman
Dates: 19/9/15

Sometimes gigs are like buses, you wait ages for one & then two turn up at once. This weekend found me on an all too rare chance to see live music on successive days. Two husband and wife duos, two very different sets but both perfectly suited to their individual audiences.

First up, Friday 18th September saw me making the trip along the M4 for my first visit to the Valley Folk Club at Pontardawe. The club has been going for approximately 45 years, 30 of which have been at it's current Ivy Bush Hotel home.

In that time, many illustrious guests have performed at the club, the latest of which were American Folk duo Hungrytown.

If you're not familiar with them, Hungrytown are Rebecca Hall and Ken Anderson, Rebecca comes from a Jazz background, whilst Ken was a part of the New York garage band scene. The loss of a friend to cancer brought them into the world of folk and they haven't looked back since.

The duo's Valley Folk Club gig was an entirely acoustic affair, with no amplification of any kind. Any doubts about this were soon dispelled as Rebecca's clear voice soon had a packed room enthralled.

Unsurprisingly, songs from Hungrytown's latest album, Further West, featured strongly and it was a pleasure to hear the Valley Folk Club members harmonising so well on songs like Don't You Let Me Down. In between the songs we heard stories about Rebecca and Ken's nomadic life and their time living in New York City, including the time their van caught fire whilst touring in the Pacific North West and how they came up with the band name. For me one of life's great pleasures is to find an interesting looking road and following it just to see where it goes, Rebecca and Ken found one such called Hungrytown Road whilst recording in the Bluegrass Country and decided to adopt the name. They never did find out whether a settlement called Hungrytown ever existed.

Live, Hungrytown are every bit as good as they are on album, Rebecca's voice and Ken's playing are a pleasure to listen to and it was great to witness them feeding off the energy of an appreciative audience as they did at the Valley Folk Club. Hungrytown are touring the UK until the middle of October, if you can, go and see them. Personally I look forward to catching up with them when they return to the UK in September 2016.

What of my second gig of the weekend? For those of you who are not familiar with the place, Cwmaman is a former mining village in the South Wales Valleys not far from Aberdare, it's claim to fame is that The Stereophonics call it home and one of the first places they played was The Falcon Inn. It's not an easy place to find, being nestled away at the end of a lane that leads from the village down a small valley. For the last few years it has also been a location for the annual Cwmaman Music Festival, a weekend of live music of all types around various venues in the village.

Making their fourth appearance at the festival were South London based duo Bruise. Isobel and Jim Kimberley performed two sets on the Saturday, firstly an Acoustic set another festival venue, the Glynhafod Club before making their way down to the Falcon for a full on electric set in the evening. Like Hungrytown, Bruise are a husband and wife duo, and like Rebecca Hall and Ken Anderson on the previous evening, Isobel and Jim Kimberley put on a set that was perfectly suited to their Saturday night audience, only this time that meant a full on rock out rather than a stripped back acoustic set.

The first thing that strikes you seeing Bruise live is their sound. As I have already mentioned, Bruise are a duo with Isobel Kimberley on vocals and guitar very ably backed up by Jim on drums and backing vocals, but anybody coming in late could be forgiven for expecting to see a full band, such is the multi layered sound that they produce. To me, there were elements of the likes Patti Smith and Portishead in Bruise's performance and music and I could see quite well why they are equally at home touring with Hawkwind as performing at folk clubs.

Throughout their 45 minute set I was consistently impressed by Isobel and Jim's standard of songwriting and musicianship, the way that the messages in the songs managed to cut through the background noise of a busy Saturday night pub and the way that they kept their audience engaged and entertained throughout the set. Talking to other gig goers afterwards, it soon became clear that I was not alone in those thoughts either, Wow! Was a recurring comment with many people singling out Jim Kimberley's talents as a drummer for special praise. Having said that, a special mention must go to festival organiser Huw Chidgey for doing such a great job with the sound system, far too often the impact of a good band is diluted by a poor sound.

The Falcon is a venue with a special place in music history and it is good to see it back on its feet with nights like this with both band and crowd feeding off the good vibes to create a memorable evening, here's hoping it has a future as a venue too.

In attending gigs on successive evenings I may have seen two very different styles of performance but the two had a great deal in common, not just the fact that both were husband and wife duos and the chemistry that brings to a performance, but they were also case studies in tailoring your performance to suit your audience. Both bands managed to entertain and enthrall their respective audiences by putting together a set that matched the respective venues and moods perfectly.

Hungrytown and Bruise put in very different performances in terms of tempo and mood but I enjoyed both equally and look forward to seeing them live again.

David Chamberlain

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