There have been some fantastic folk highlights in Bristol this month; the triumphant return of the Bristol Folk Festival as well as numerous gigs at the Folk House and St George’s. It just shows how much amazing music is out there. It's probably always been this way but right now there seems to be so many incredible singers, so many exciting bands. Increasingly, though, it feels as though the best of them are united by a common thread. 

The best voices belong to women.

Think about Nancy Kerr, Eliza Carthy, Lady Maisery, The Unthanks, The Askew Sisters and THE DOVETAIL TRIO.

The Dovetail Trio's incredible voice belongs to Rosie Hood; an utterly captivating presence and one that has sung here before. A few years ago she played solo support but this time she's brought Jamie Roberts and Matt Quinn with her. Her voice is one of unaffected English loveliness. Even when singing songs collected in America her Wiltshire tones shine through. The sparsely beautiful The Frozen Girl being a case in point. A folk tale of love, weather and death Rosie pierces every heart in the place with the thorns of an English rose.  When she sings the world seems to get better.

That's not to say that the boys are faceless hired hands. Matt Quinn is a charmingly affable, plays concertina and has a voice that you would never assume comes from such a frame. Jamie Roberts is a bit of a star in his own right too, being one half of Gilmore & Roberts. His guitar playing is a delightful counterpoint to some of the occasionally morbid songs. He brings joy.

The Two Sisters has no right to be joyous, being a song about murder and retribution, but it's uplifting and life-affirming; all three musicians bringing the story to life and chasing the darkness away. The same can be said for The Light Dragoon, a track from their forthcoming album Bold Champions. Harmonies, glorious voices and simple, expert musicianship make for something timeless. You could imagine hearing exactly this in a wood-smoke filled pub hundreds of years ago.

It's when all three sing together that The Dovetail Trio become special. Time and again through the evening guitar and concertina are put to one side and three voices twist around traditional songs. Shipwrecks, river banks and meeting Death are treated to beautiful harmonies and this is when you truly could listen to this band for a hundred years. It's Rosie Hood's voice that sits front and centre but the other two allow it to sparkle. They provide the setting for a fine jewel.

Towards the end of their set they sing The Old Churchyard. It's an old American hymn, learnt from Waterson Carthy, and it is just the loveliest thing that you could ever wish to hear. It's full of faith and hope, a chorus to raise the roof and more of those harmonies. It's the sort of song you hope they'll be singing when you finally go.

If The Dovetail Trio prove that women have the greatest folk voices, so the support act, ROAD NOT TAKEN, do a brilliant job of backing that up. Anita Dobson is fast becoming the driving force of our local heroes. A Bronte heroine with a voice of the finest crystal, she makes familiar songs her own. Let’s face it if you’re going to songs best known by Suzanne Vega (The Queen & The Soldier) and Eddi Reader (My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose) your voice had better be extraordinary. Anita’s voice is. The boys do a fine job too with banjo, harmonium and guitar helping the indie-tinged folk along but special mention must go to another woman. Claire Hamlen’s violin is just lovely. Road Not Taken are currently crowd-funding their debut album, it’ll be worth a few of your pounds just to take Anita’s voice home with you.

How could you ask for more, during a busy May, than a wonderful evening with two bands that prove that (as Beyonce nearly said) girls run the folk world?

Words: Gavin McNamara
Photo: Julian Cox