Live Review | The Regent, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson
At just nineteen, Ruth Notman brings something to the stage that probably ninety-nine-point-nine per cent of folk singers would love to bring to their stage; that is, fresh faced youth. She speaks of A levels and examinations with youthful candour, not as if it were just yesterday, but as if she was still in the middle of them. Ruth’s scatterbrain affectations could come across as giddiness, were it not for her bright and breezy personality. It actually comes across as unbridled charm. You would have to be made of ice not to love this Nottingham lass. This highly anticipated appearance at the Monday Music Club at the Regent, was Ruth’s first club outing this year and she brought with it just about every song from her debut album Threads. The anticipation of this gig incidentally came about due to Max (the sound man), whose persistent playing of Threads through the PA as regulars took to their seats on previous guest nights, made it completely irresistible to attend. The liner notes of this album site such inspirations as Nic Jones, Eliza Carthy, Martin Carthy, June Tabor, Richard Thompson and Dougie Maclean, credits that could not fail to help the CD find its way into my virtual shopping basket. Alternating between guitar and piano, with the odd unaccompanied song thrown in, Ruth delighted her audience with her unmistakable voice and faultless song choices. Opening with her own take on Nic Jones’ “Billy Don’t You Weep For Me”, Ruth’s set displayed a lightness of touch on both guitar and piano. Had there been room in the car, she confesses, she would have probably brought along the harp as well. Name-dropping the likes of Cara Dillon, Sandy Denny and Eliza Carthy throughout her set, Ruth demonstrated an insatiable appetite for the cream of British female singers. Ruth also joked about Westlife, especially when tackling power ballad key changes as illustrated in “Lonely Day Dies”, which she admits is there simply to ‘meet the criteria of the examination board’ in her Music A Level! Ruth proclaims from the get-go that women write the best songs; ‘they don’t dilly-dally’ she declares. She does however make an exception when Dougie MacLean springs to mind and her treatment of “Caledonia” is one of the highlights of the set. Other highlights include “Limbo” recently heard at the club by Martin Carthy, which in the hands of Ruth Notman adopts a jaunty piano motif that becomes equally accessible and memorable. “Farewell Farewell”, the classic Richard Thompson song, definitively performed by the late Sandy Denny on the celebrated Fairport Convention Liege and Lief album, is approached with both maturity and assured confidence. Songwriters often tell of the circumstances surrounding how they came to write a particular song, which informs the listener and fills in any gaps that the rhetoric cannot afford. Confessions of having written a lyric on a freight train or whilst dipping one’s toes in the Mississippi may have a certain romance, but it’s not often you hear a line like “I wrote this in English Lit class instead of doing an essay on Othello!” Such is the introduction to one of Ruth’s own compositions “Hideaway”, a song that comfortably straddles the folk/pop boundary. There’s almost an apologetic air to her song introductions, especially when addressing almost sacrosanct figures such as Nic Jones and Sandy Denny, but I personally think this is a nonsense that the old guard foists upon young people. Ruth, along with any newcomer to folk music has every right, if not more right, to trawl these back catalogues and breathe new life into these old songs. Ruth is one of the new breed of folk singers, along with Bella Hardy, Lisa Knapp, Jackie Oates and Rachel Unthank, to name but a few, who are not only keeping this music fresh and alive, but are making it exciting once again.