Towards the end of their first set The Georgia Lewis Band play a version of The Raggle Taggle Gypsies. It is full of love, passion and wildness. A song to blow away the mundane and the ordinary. A song for dreamers and seekers. It was a song that perfectly summed up this Autumn evening.
GEORGIA LEWIS is a piratical storyteller, a tangle haired buccaneer. She steals songs and holds them to ransom, forces them to walk a plank, wrings every last drop out of them. Her voice is pure, strong and utterly free and has justifiably won several “Future of Folk” awards. For four minutes at a time she becomes a new character, grasping at air, gazing after her lost loves and searching for freedoms.
It is, however, the unaccompanied voice that takes all of the gold this evening. For much of the evening she finds a willing foil in Rowan Piggott. He's a violinist with a voice of the highest tone. When this band catches fire it's the times that he adds a spark to the gunpowder that Lewis provides. When they sing together they create something that is pin-drop beautiful. The Gaelic poem, I Am Stretched on Your Grave, is heartbreakingly sad but intensely beautiful. As the two voices harmonise towards the end of the song so a tragic yearning is uncovered. It is performed to absolute silence. It is gorgeous.
Equally gorgeous is a version of Another Man's Ground. It is, equally, just the two voices telling a well-worn story and it is wholly affecting. In lots of ways it's hard to work out why there's a band here at all. With Georgia Lewis' accordion and whistle and Rowan Piggott's violin they surely have all that they could possibly need.
And then all five band members come together and it becomes perfectly clear. An Appalacian take on The Factory Girl swings delightfully. Andy North’s piano gives even greater poignancy to the extraordinary Must I Be Bound, which is dedicated to mental health heroes MIND, and Finbar Magin’s Spanish guitar conjures a little more exotic wildness for The Brown Girl.
The evening has a poetic thread that runs through it. The title of Georgia Lewis' new album is The Bird Who Sings Freedom. The title track is a Maya Angelou poem; it’s a cry for freedom. The words are delivered with a fevered reverence but with that, now familiar, desperate yearning to be free.
The twin threads of poetry and unaccompanied voice are first seen in the support act for the evening. ROSIE HODGSON is an absolute revelation. A traditional singer from West Sussex, she sings old songs, including a lovely version of Kipling’s A Tree Song/Oak, Ash and Thorn, with a velvet voice, one flecked with Autumnal colours. She adds splashes of guitar but it's her voice that truly adds the magic. The remarkable Rowan Piggott pops up on two songs too.
In both voices there is love, passion, wildness and freedom. There is nothing better on an Autumn evening to help you escape the ordinary.
Words: Gavin McNamara
Photo: Alan Cole