Please don't get me wrong. I have no wish to disparage Minnie Driver. I am a big fan of the James Bond films, and in my opinion the greatest moment out of all of them is in Goldeneye, namely Minnie Driver's cameo role as Irina. However, I have to if add that if her delectable version of "Stand By Your Man", (decribed by that well known critic of Russian Folk Music, Pierce Brosnan as "Who's strangling that cat?"), is the closest you have yet got to listening to Russian folk music, then you have missed out. You need to complete your education, and listen to Kara.
The Anchor Folk club meets every Thursday in a fairly small room upstairs in the Blue Anchor pub in Byfleet in Surrey. Although it's only a fairly small room, they have a vibrant following and can attract some amazingly talented artistes, such as Kara.
Like many folk clubs, an evening's performance comprises floor spots from locals as well as the main acts. In some folk clubs the local floor spots can be a little torturous, but there is no shortage of talent in the local area, and the floor spots that night were exceptional. Master of Ceremonies for the evening was Mike Peach, who opened the evening with a Scottish song I hadn't heard before. (Apparently as a consequence of the SNP's gains in the election it is now mandatory that a Scottish song must be played at every Folk Club meeting). Although the song was new to me, the whole of the rest of the audience seemed to join in unbidden.
Kara are not the normal, run of the mill folk band. Yes, there is a very strong Russian influence, due to their lead singer, Daria Kulesh. Several of their songs are Russian ballads, performed either in Russian or translated into English. However, Daria, Ben Honey (guitar) and Kate Rouse (hammered dulcimer and vocals) all write their own material and they also draw extensively from a wide variety of traditional, european and modern sources. Their song "Mermaid's Lullaby" for example, is based on the opera "Sadko" by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and they open with "Rusalka", based on an Alexander Pushkin poem, and their instrumental "Flying Spaghetti Monster" is formed both musically and titularly from three modern pieces: "Spaghetti Panic" by Andrew Cutting, "The Plane Tree" by Undine Hornby and "Herbert the Sherbert" by Martin Ellison.
The band are characteristed by Daria's crystal clear diction and the exquisite combination of the sound of an accordion together with the sound of a hammered dulcimer. At times Gary Holbrook can make the accordion sound like an orchestra of violins. The hammered dulcimer looks to me to be an extraordinarily difficult instrument to play, but the sound that Kate can produce from it is better than a grand piano.
Because the audience had sung so well during Mike Peach's song, Daria risked some audience participation on "Ataman". Could the audience sing in Russian? A challenge that the Anchor Folk Club rose to.
They are currently recording their second album, and played several tracks from it, so I'm a little unsure as to the title of one track, pronounced something like "Vignetta", though as it is Russian, my spelling could be somewhat incorrect.
Guitarist Ben Honey's in-laws used to live on the Isle of Wight, so a couple of his songs have a strong Isle of Wight theme, including one track they played in the first half called "Union Street" about a wedding. He didn't explain whether it was based on a real wedding or whether it was fictitious, though. One of the floor spots who started the second set was a duo called Irene and Mike. Mike mentioned that his mother actually lived in Union Street on the Isle of Wight. When asked was she a milkmaid like the character in the song, he replied that she wasn't but her mother was. Maybe the song was about her?
To round off on the James Bond theme, when Daria introduced the rest of the band, she pointed out that it was easy to remember their names Kate, Gary and Ben. Their initials are K. G and B. A wonderful evening, with some fantastic songs, beautifully performed. But then I'd have to say that, wouldn't I? Can't offend the KGB.
The Wedding Guest
Made Of Light
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