There’s a woman that works as a Weather Girl called Sara Blizzard. And a bloke called Les McBurney that works as a firefighter. Both delicious examples of nominative determinism - names that fit a job. You might expect, therefore, that a folk duo called THE ASKEW SISTERS would be a little bit wonky, for the two of them to not sit quite right.

You'd be wrong. And pronouncing their name badly too.

Emily and Hazel Askew are two complimentary sides of a very shiny coin. Two halves of a perfect circle. Two colours that create a vibrant hue. As a duo they've been playing together for fifteen years but Downend Folk Club has seen Hazel several times before. As one third of the unsurpassed Lady Maisery she has always played her various instruments with the lightest of touches and sung with a purity that others simply don't possess. Hers is a voice that most of the young pretenders would kill for. If, that is, folk singers ever did such a thing. It’s everything that you want it to be - sweet, crystalline, melancholy. Her sister, Emily, isn't to be outshone though. Harmonizing with such elegance and subtlety as well as coaxing the loveliest of melodies from varying stringed instruments. Her cello hums, drones and croons while her violin frequently adds splashes of colour to the evening.

 

Aside from the harmonies these sisters play a set that fits beautifully together too. The songs are delicate and sad, many of them familiar to the folkies in the adoring audience. GeorgieI Wandered By The Brookside and A Girl Cut Down In Her Prime are all shot through with love, loss and tragedy. All are perfectly pitched, all have the doomed beauty of an eighteenth century French heiress. The last on that list is especially lovely; it’s a song about death that positively swoons.

The songs are just a part of the whole though. There are waltzes, hornpipes and Morris tunes too. These chase the melancholy away. They grin and bounce, driven onwards by violin and melodeon. That melodeon even adds the tiniest hint of Yann Tiersen’s giddy sway; the French accent of the Amilie soundtrack that brings great bucketfuls of joy scattering smiles and European warmth. Particular mention must go to London's Loyalty/Heady Days, a nod to the greatest city on earth and headaches. It is so charmingly infectious, so loaded with happiness.

Much of their set is taken from their wonderful new album, Enclosure, and takes ancient ballads and gently, softly breathes new life in to them. Familiar songs are slowed and those powerful words hit you harder because of it. There’s a unifying theme through much of the songs tonight too, there’s politics with the lightest touch and a concern over where we can, and can’t, go. These songs are about freedom, personal and political. Both Goose and Common and My Father Built Me A Pretty Tower are prefect. They are dark and simmer gently.

Appropriately NICK HART, the support act for the evening, delivers a gorgeous version of the Child ballad The Two Sisters about half way through his set. It's played slowly, pain and heartbreak etched in to it. It's one of five fabulous songs from the folk tradition that he plays. All are brilliant, all have the mark of a classic folk singer and all are well worth finding. If you have any interest in Sam Lee, Martin Simpson or Nic Jones, then add Nick Hart to your list too. Wonderful.

There was nothing wonky, nothing off-key about this evening. Two acts creating yet another perfect Downend Folk Club evening.

Words: Gavin McNamara
Photo: Julian Cox