Wednesday 24th of August 2016 at De Koffie Pot, Hereford
I’m glad I managed to get out of the house to hear the three superb acts that kept us enthralled at De Koffie Pot Wednesday night. It was a mesmerising assortment of innovative acts who all expressed a unique slant on the folk genre. Alula Down played a pleasant and intriguing mix of traditional music and original songs. They began with some technical problems, the mic fading in and out, which was fortunately smoothed out to allow their particular brand of elegant folk music to impress itself upon the receptive ears of the audience.Below – Alula Down playing Canon Frome
The management had open mindedly allowed dogs into the venue, one of whom was singing along on a song about a shepherd that mentioned his black dog. This was commented on by Mark Waters, one half of the duo, who with Kate Gathercole played intricately woven tapestries of finger-picked guitar and guitarlele- a cross between a ukulele and a classical guitar that is played a fifth up. Kate also played what I think is called a squeeze box, an air driven keyboard instrument that creates a textural drone that complimented Mark’s guitar harmoniously.
“Elspeth’s songs are enigmatic and at once disquieting and empowering. Even when they express emotions like doubt or anger they come from a place of strength. She performed better last night than I’ve ever seen her, with an unparalleled force of feeling….”
Further ambience was added by a sampler which filled out the spaces between cantering notes. The music was delicate and sophisticated with beautiful harmonies and some more inventive combinations that at times approached discord. The pair have clearly been playing together for some time and it all feels quite effortless. Their music features on the excellent Beating the Bounds – a Weirdshire compilation, and they previewed a song from the upcoming instalment of Weirdshire which is out alongside a series of unconventional folk gigs showcasing local talent this September.
ELSPETH ANNIE MACRAE
Also on last year’s Weirdshire recording was Elspeth Anne, whose self-styled ghostpunk music is hard to conventionally categorise. I don’t know anyone else like her to draw comparisons. She plays a cover of a traditional song called ‘Hanging Johnny’ that draws on the distorted version by Thirty Pounds of Bone. Elspeth fits in alongside folk acts by the haunting, cavernous quality (it is apt that her last, excellent EP was called Cave) that has a primal eerie terror that evokes spacious night forests – her album Thieves Again is on Woodland Recordings, the artists on which seem to share largely a sparsity, and an individual and unconventional approach to songwriting.
Elspeth’s songs are enigmatic and at once disquieting and empowering. Even when they express emotions like doubt or anger they come from a place of strength. She performed better last night than I’ve ever seen her, with an unparalleled force of feeling and her voice was in great form, reaching high notes without compromising volume and impact. I recommend if you haven’t, you go and see her, and if you have you see her again. She continued the folk performance tradition of explaining the songs before they start but with a wry sense of humour. “This song’s called Hand. It’s about a hand. Disembodied. Severed if you like”. As you will have picked up there is a lot of darkness in her songs, something of the Gothic tradition, more in a literary sense than musically, which is celebratory and unapologetic.
Last to the stage was Emily Jones, a Falmouth singer I had not heard of before. She also brought a mixture of humour and darkness of a different sort and explained immediately that all her songs were about Bees and Dust and gave the audience the option to decide which they would like to hear first, which nearly lead to a hung parliament and suggestions of dusty bees. Perhaps because she was new to my ears I admit I took a moment to warm to her music but pretty soon I was struck. Sometimes it takes a moment to hear something new but persistence pays off. Listening to the paradoxically fragile and incisive sounds I was reminded of post-Floyd Syd Barrett with a better grip on time signatures. This comparison came to mind before an excellent Syd Barrett cover later confirmed the influence.
I am also reminded of Vashti Bunyan through the evocation of melancholy pastoral psychedelic folk in the English tradition. After playing a couple of notably doleful songs she asked “do you want to hear a sad one now?” And then as a party piece incredibly wrung a good drop of beauty out of a Status Quo song which is recontexualized as a folk ballad and barely recognisable until the chorus. An enticing mix of humour and profundity.
Words and Photos by Omar Majeed