We’ve met KITTY MACFARLANE before, here at Downend Folk Club.
We first encountered her some three years ago, when she opened for Jimmy Aldridge and Sid Goldsmith as an early-twenty-something. She’d just released her first EP and her potential was clear to see. Then she came back in January 2018 to open for her friend Blair Dunlop. She’s also sat in the audience a fair few times since she relocated to Bristol.
Yes, we’ve met before.
But the Kitty Macfarlane we see before us tonight is a different proposition altogether. This is a mature, considered and thoughtful performance of some truly beautifully-crafted songs from an artist whose development has been mirrored by an astronomical rise in her profile since the release of her debut album, Namer of Clouds, late last year.
It’s mostly from that record that this evening’s songs are taken. The theme of nature and wildlife is almost ever-present in Kitty’s two enchanting sets; there are tales of mythical giants falling in love and then falling over to form the Avon Gorge (Avona & The Giant); beachcombing (Wrecking Days); elderly Italian ladies spinning fine material from sea-creatures (Sea Silk); and, of course, a song about Kitty’s favourite animal, accompanied by many facts and the appearance of temporary eel tattoos (yes, you read that right!) on the merch desk (Glass Eel).
There are a plethora of acoustic guitar wielding singer-songwriters out there, so to get noticed takes something special. Since we last saw her, Kitty has added the clever use of recorded “found sound” to her set. Her voice is crystal-clear… you really can hear every. single. word... precise and yet natural. She soars to the heights of the Frenchay Village Hall rafters, and in the next breath, gathers in the near-capacity audience with hushed, almost whispered tones. Her guitar playing is sensitive and skilled. These things set her apart on their own. But it’s the songwriting that really grabs you. Kitty writes songs about things that matter. The afformentioned Glass Eel isn’t really about eels, you see… it’s about freedom of movement and the urge to travel. These are songs that both make you sing (for months afterwards) and make you think (possibly for even longer). And she can tell a tale and write a catchy tune, too, as songs like Dawn & Dark and Man, Friendship prove beyond all doubt. There are even a couple of traditional numbers for the dyed-in-the-wool folkies (Morgan’s Pantry, Frozen Charlotte).
Downend Folk Club’s long-stated dual aims are to bring the best of the country’s emerging folk, roots and acoustic music to South Gloucestershire, and also to give opportunities to young musicians just starting out, and the evening’s opening act LOUIS CAMPBELL definitely falls into that category. With his deft and impressive finger-style guitar playing (he’s currently under the tutelage of a certain Martin Simpson, so perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised) and an interesting and varied singing style, including a more than acceptable falsetto, this is definitely a young man to watch. Are You Wearing Socks Over There? is the highlight of a hugely promising set.
But, on her third visit, this is Kitty’s night. When we see artists on a regular basis, it’s occasionally easy to fail to spot just how far they’ve come. She left us in no doubt this evening. If October’s BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards don’t feature the name Kitty Macfarlane, then there’s precious little justice in the world.
Words: Bea Furlong
Photo: Jo Elkington
Our stunning Summer programme continues this month with the return of a familiar face who is now one of the hottest properties on the UK folk scene and beyond.
KITTY MACFARLANE has twice played support slots at the club in the past, but now it’s her time to step into the spotlight... something she’s been doing on a national level since the release of her debut album last Autumn.
Kitty is a songwriter and guitarist, originally from Somerset but now based right here in Bristol, whose music is rich with visual imagery and written with an eco-eye. Her trademark lies in remarkably mature songwriting, a marked empathy with the environment and a strong sense of place. Carried by a clear voice "controlled yet wild" (Folk Radio), her lyrics touch on intervention and rewilding, climate change and migration, woman’s age-old relationship with textiles and the land, and the changing face of the natural world. From the starling murmurations on the Somerset Levels to the lowly eel's epic transatlantic migration, the coasts and estuaries of the South West and the small part we ourselves play in a much bigger picture, her songs are bound by the underlying theme of mankind's relationship with the wild. Cerebral and topical, honest and immediate, these are not throwaway lyrics or everyday melodies but thought-provoking and evocative compositions with wonderfully crafted soundscapes.
Her debut album Namer Of Clouds was one of The Guardian's Best Folk Albums of 2018, and has seen airplay across BBC Radio 2, 3, 4 and 6 Music. Last year she was invited to guest- present two episodes of BBC Radio 4's Tweet of the Day and Kitty performed live in session on BBC Radio 2 at the beginning of 2019.
Opening the evening’s entertainment will be LOUIS CAMPBELL, a 19-year old guitarist and singer- songwriter from Bath. After two years in the National Youth Folk Ensemble he is now studying at the Royal Northern College of Music with Martin Simpson and Craig Ogden and he was also lucky enough to be one of three recipients of the first Alan Surtees Trust grants for young folk musicians. Louis blends guitar influences from all over with a particular interest in the English fingerstyle tradition, bluegrass flatpicking, jazz and minimalism, and is keen to not only reflect his traditional folk background in his songwriting but modern influences ranging everywhere from Bon Iver to Radiohead and This is The Kit. He has had the opportunities to share a stage with the likes of Martin Carthy and John Doyle and has played at many festivals and venues across the country.
Tickets for the event, which takes place at Frenchay Village Hall on Friday 21st June 2019, are available from MELANIE'S KITCHEN or online HERE. They are priced at £12 each in advance (£10 for members), or £14 on the door. There will be a full bar, stocking cider, soft drinks, wine, hot drinks and locally-brewed real ale from Hambrook-based GREAT WESTERN BREWING CO., and also locally-made NAUGHTY BROWNIES. There will be a raffle with prizes including CDs, gift boxes of beer and sweet treats. You are encouraged to bring your own glass/mug/tankard/bucket, as well as reusable bottles for water, as part of our drive to be more environmentally aware.
Most of our events sell out, so please do buy your tickets in advance.
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
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