The best kind of folk music plays an odd trick. It faces backwards and forwards at the same time. EDGELARKS play the best kind of folk music.
The last time Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin played at the folk club they were two supremely talented musicians with four Christian names between them. Today they have racked up yet another BBC Folk Awards nomination, toured the world, collaborated with everyone and changed their name. And Edgelarks seems fitting. A voice of heartbreaking beauty standing at the margins. A yearning that looks to horizons, somewhere out there. She has the heartbreaking voice, they have their eyes on the widest, most distant horizon.
Because, you see, Edgelarks deal in the huge. For a mere duo they create a multi-layered, many faceted noise. Banjo, fiddle, Indian slide guitar, dobro, harmonica, stomps, drones and some sort of folkish beatboxing swirl about them. Worlds are created. Great vista sweep before them. They have their eyes fixed firmly in the distance but they are tethered to right here. The opening song of the night demonstrates this in the best possible way. Silbury Hill is an old song about an ancient piece of Albion but it oozes contemporary folk charm.
Hannah Martin's voice is exquisite. It is a rich, deep thing that tells a tale with glorious simplicity. You could listen to her sing forever and never tire of it. She is the perfect counterpoint to Phillip Henry's remarkable musical virtuosity. A seemingly unassuming Lancastrian, he becomes possessed by the spirit of wild invention once he picks up an instrument, any instrument; playing a slide guitar with a paintbrush one minute, imitating a train with his harmonica the next. He is the one that gives her travelling narratives their wings.
Early on they tell us what they think of our current European political situation and it's easy to see why they believe "Brexit is b*****ks". For anyone that wants to explore the world as they do, insularity is anathema. Whether using the American Jay as metaphor on Song of the Jay, an Australian tour as the marker for their place in the world, as on Signposts, or setting 300 year old Dutch letters free on Undelivered, they constantly roam. Americana and English folk song jostle and tussle, sometimes in the same song.
Before all of this wide-screen soundscapery, IONA LANE treats us to a short set of Joni-flecked indie folk. The five tracks were lovely, simple and acoustic but the highlight was yet another song that transported the Frenchay faithful to a different place. Her version of the traditional The Loch Tay Boat Song stopped time. Scots to its very bones and seriously beautiful. An utter treat.
So, songs that look backward and forwards. Songs that remind you of the widest horizons. Songs to sing on the edges of our world. Edgelarks play the best sort of folk music.
Words: Gavin McNamara
Photo: Chris Dobson