Some things are worth the wait.

It’s been a long time coming, has the visit of HANNAH SANDERS & BEN SAVAGE to Downend Folk Club. This balmy, showery Summer’s evening is the third time that the duo have been booked to appear; both previous times have had to be rearranged for various reasons before they were even announced. Even this one was briefly in danger of not happening, as Hannah and Ben hit serious Summer holiday traffic on the M25 and, at one point, it seemed unlikely they’d make it.

But make it they did, and worth the wait it was. And then some. “We’re going to have a party,” Hannah tells a nicely full Frenchay Village Hall. “A very quiet, restrained party.” She meant it as a joke, but in actual fact, it’s a great description of what was to come."

The pair, and their myriad guitars, dobros and dulcimers, huddle together around a single microphone, reminiscent of many of the finest bluegrass acts of years gone by. Yet the sound they make, whilst tinged with the merest hint of Americana, is far from bluegrass. It’s a thing of soaring beauty, as their two contrasting voices twist and entwine together in stunning harmonies, and their gentle, sensitive musicianship lifts the whole thing to a magical level.

A review in a well-known folk music magazine, in describing Hannah and Ben as “spellbinding”, said of the pair that they were clearly “born to sing and play together”, and that sense of the meeting of two musicians destined to be a duo is tangible throughout two halves of evocative soundscapes. Hannah’s voice, clear as a bell and at times almost operatic, soars to the rafters, and is complimented perfectly by Ben’s gravelly tones. They wind their way through some traditional songs, including the stand-out I’ll Weave My Love A Garland, while their version of Woody Guthrie’s Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key is simply breathtaking.

It would be easy to lose oneself in all of this, and one frequently does... but Hannah and Ben also have a warm and engaging manner on-stage, and a lively, quirky sense of humour that means that there are as many laughs as their are gasps at the beauty. Their CDs don’t have their names on them, and neither do the t-shirts. “It’s a marketing nightmare”, says Ben. But it doesn’t stop the crowds forming a long, orderly queue to spend their money at the end. One regular summed it up: “An exceptional night, even by Downend Folk Club standards!”

Opening the evening’s entertainment was Exeter-based singer-songwriter BEN MORGAN-BROWN, who delivered the perfect support slot. Bringing to mind luminaries such as John Martyn, Nick Drake and Bert Jansch (whom Ben later said was an inspiration in his musical journey; no surprise there!), his songs were well-crafted and delivered with a crystal clear, gently lulling voice, and a dexterity on the guitar as good as anyone seen at the club before. One to watch, and he, too, proved popular with the gathered faithful.

But it was to Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage that the evening rightly belonged. It was a long time coming, but it was so, so worth the wait.

Words: Ant Miles
Photo: Chris Dobson