Sometimes, you just know you’re in for a great evening. 

When a Downend Folk Club concert sells out over two weeks in advance and has a waiting list for tickets as long as your arm (stealing arm or otherwise, with apologies to those who weren’t there for the “in” joke), you just know you’re in for a great evening.

When you’re going to see GILMORE & ROBERTS, you just know you’re in for a great evening.

You can feel the excitement in the room as soon as you arrive. The hall is packed, not a seat anywhere to be seen, well ahead of the start time. You can see the frisson of excitement in the eyes of your fellow audience members. You catch a fleeting glance of one of Gilmore or Roberts and the excitement grows. You just know you’re in for a great evening.

We’ve been here before, Downend Folk Club and Gilmore & Roberts. Back in the mists of time (well, March 2016) Katriona and Jamie first stepped on to the stage at Frenchay Village Hall. It was pretty much a sell-out that night too, although perhaps not quite as quickly. The people in the audience that night have long memories, they made sure they didn’t miss out this time around. Because, once again, this was a concert that will live long in the memory.

As soon as the duo launch into Bone Cupboard, a sparse, almost hypnotic song about skeletons in the closet taken from their latest album, A Problem Of Our Kind, the audience are transfixed and, at the end of the song, the rapturous applause (and did I even hear a whoop or two?!), breaks the spell in the best way possible.

Katriona plays fiddle (right-handed) and mandolin (left-handed) and sings. Her voice is a thing of unusual beauty. Delicate with a roughness around the edges, there’s a gravitas to her delivery; you believe the stories her songs are telling you. Jamie plays guitar; usually the traditional way, but for one occasion, on The Stealing Arm (there’s the explanation of that private joke), laid across his lap, his fingers hitting the strings and the body of the guitar to create an explosion of sound. And he sings, too; his substantial, full-bodied voice, thick with northern charm, is the perfect counterpoint to that of his partner.

The evening is full of highlights. Gilmore & Roberts’ songs, mostly self-penned, tell great stories. There are tales of a doctor who never got the recognition he (nay, she) deserved (Doctor James); tales of a scarecrow (Scarecrow, as if you couldn’t have guessed), and tales a plenty about the human condition, both good and bad; a theme that Katriona explains they found running through their newest album without having really intended it (The Philanthropist and Selfish Man being great examples).

There are two unexpected highlights. First the duo step in front of the stage for Ghost Of A Ring, completely acoustic. You could hear a pin drop, Jamie’s guitar with a neat little refrain complementing Katriona’s hushed vocal and gently strummed mandolin. The other one? Well, I won’t spoil the surprise for anyone that’s yet to see them. You’ll know the moment from the smile it brings to your face and the laughter it brings along with it.

Opening the evening’s entertainment are MATT QUINN & OWEN WOODS… or should that be Owen Woods & Matt Quinn? They couldn’t quite make up their minds, forming the backbone of some very amusing on-stage banter. They are a melodeon and concertina duo. There aren’t many duos out there using two squeezeboxes, but on the basis of this showing, there should be more. They take us on a whistlestop tour of English and European tunes. It’s the perfect folky foil to the contemporary acoustic joy of the main act.

But it is to Katriona and Jamie that the evening belongs. If you haven’t seen them yet, you should. You just know (by now) that you’d be in for a great evening.

Words: Bea Furlong
Photo: Chris Dobson