Now, look. Hang on. Just wait a cotton-pickin' minute. THIS is not how your average folk gig is supposed to go. There’s laughter. There's an almost complete lack of songs about murder and/or drowning. Almost no one has said “this was collected from Nether Wallop in 1872”. There are no tortured allusions to Br*xit/the difficulties of the working man. There are proper love songs. This is FUN. In fact MIDNIGHT SKYRACER's super-charged British Bluegrass isn’t really folk at all. Yet they leave Downend Folk Club almost speechless.

How good are they? There are almost no words.

Three parts Anglo to two parts Irish, Midnight Skyracer start at full tilt and don't really let up. Tracks from their debut album Fire blend seamlessly with smoke-aged Bluegrass classics by the likes of Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs. Seamlessly is the word, you can't see the join, can't tell where the old leaves off and the new starts. Every single song is utter perfection. This is (American) folk music to keep your feet tapping and your soul smiling. And some of it is just so fast, so assured. 

But, oh my, how this band plays. They are, surely, the best British Bluegrass band that there's ever been. To be honest they are as good as ANY Bluegrass band you've ever heard. If the Steve Earle/Del McCoury Band album The Mountain is as good as this sort of thing gets then Midnight Skyracer are as good as that. If I'm With Her are one of the best of the current American Bluegrass bands then this lot are easily as good (and much better live).

If anyone fancies themselves as a bit of a guitar player then they probably need to see Charlotte Carrivick live. And then seriously reconsider their own talent. No one is that good. Charlotte's twin sister Laura is also simply remarkable. Imagine the family parties! Laura plays dobro and violin, sings and is, by her own admission, truly hopeless at counting her bandmates in! The two main singers, Leanne Thorose and Tabitha Benedict, are what ever the Appalachian version of Yin and Yang are. One is all snarl and growl, sass and smarts, the other is sweetness and light. Old-timey loveliness pitched against the moonshine. You could listen to either for ever but when they sing together… oh, there are no words!

By the second half of the set the new songs are coming thick and fast. A new album is forthcoming and if it's going to be as strong as Shadows on the Moon would have you believe then it's going to be stunning. This song, written by insanely talented double bassist Eleanor Wlikie, has the lightest of touches, a future Bluegrass/Country radio classic. It's got to be great because the next song, I Still Miss Someone, written by the incomparable Johnny Cash, isn't really as good. I mean, it's still brilliant but…

So many of these songs snap and crackle with proper pop cleverness. Check A Little Luck for something so simple but so wonderfully, ear-catchingly brilliant. You’ll be humming it for ages. Even this, though, doesn’t match up with the “train songs, played fast, in the key of B”. There are several of them this evening and So Long, Goodbye, We’re Through is the best. So fast, perfect harmonies, glorious Bluegrass instruments hurtling to a finale. It’s just… it’s just…

The opening act of the evening was CHARLIE LIMM. Infused with classic 70s folk vibes she was everything that you need. A high, delicate voice with a talent for storytelling, Charlie charms everyone in the place. Her take on Beeswing is fabulous but many of her own songs show a confidence and a knack for writing a decent song. Old Smoky, in particular, conjures memories of London. Good stuff.

How good were Midnight Skyracer? Genuinely, there are no words. They were… umm… err…just... incredible.

Words: Gavin McNamara
Photo: Graham West