Cathryn Craig and Brian Willoughby

Live Review | The Regent, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson

I was pleased to finally catch one of Cathryn Craig and Brian Willoughby’s gigs tonight after many a missed opportunity.  Their names have emblazoned many a folk club or festival flyer over the years but I’ve never managed to find myself in the same room at the same time.  This was rectified tonight when I finally got to see them at the Regent in Doncaster.  Whilst Brian’s background is that of seasoned guitar accompanist with the likes of Mary Hopkin, Joe Brown and Nanci Griffith as well as lead guitarist with The Strawbs, Cathryn’s background is steeped in the traditional music of the Appalachians.  Their musical partnership is therefore unique and draws from a wealth of different styles, where it has been described as ‘Anglicised Americana’.  From the opening song “Old Guitar” which demonstrates Cathryn’s beautiful voice, reminiscent of Eddi Reader it has to be said and Brian’s generous guitar accompaniment, we are drawn into song after song of outstanding quality.  Throughout the performance various themes were eloquently addressed both in word and in song.  During the first half, each song was preceded with informative rather than portentous introductions by Cathryn whilst in the second, much of the between song introductions were reduced in order to let the songs speak for themselves.  Such themes as the Boxing Day Tsunami “Surrender” and Autism “Alice’s Song” were addressed with heartfelt compassion, completely devoid of mawkish sentimentality.  “Alice’s Song” was in fact written for Brian’s niece, which was subsequently released as a single by The Strawbs, for The National Autistic Society’s Year of Awareness and Cathryn and Brian’s treatment of it tonight was one of the high points of the performance.  I should imagine anyone who gets up in an English folk club to sing “Dixie” would be hard pushed not to segue into “All My Trials” and go all Glory Glory Hallelujah on us, to a rolling blanket of swaying cigarette lighters.  Cathryn Craig can sing “Dixie” and push aside all that nonsense; bypassing The King by at least a century and have us all back in the American Civil War with no strain on the imagination whatsoever.  “Mr Jefferson” reminds us all that even a President of Thomas Jefferson’s historical stature, of one who to this day still rubs shoulders with Washington, Lincoln and Roosevelt (see Wikipedia under ‘Mount Rushmore’) could also have pretty diabolical views on slavery.  Like the infamous wolf/ears analogy, “you don’t want to hold on to it, but you don’t want to let it go”.  The outstanding performance of the night was Cathryn’s powerful song for Matoaka (Pocahontas), the inspirational “Accanoe” which matched Peter Rowan’s “Land of the Navajo” for sheer heart stopping drama.  The additional percussive rattle (cleverly attached to Cathryn’s wrist) and haunting vocables added authenticity to the Native American chant which brought the song to its powerful climax and which ultimately became one of the most memorable moments in this club’s history, period.  The song ended the first half as there was nowhere to go but the bar after such a performance.  Other remarkable songs of the night were “This Night, These Dreams and You” with Brian’s beautiful guitar accompaniment, Cathryn’s bold supportive comment on her niece’s wanderlust “I Will” and the soulful “Walk Slowly through this Life”, which pretty much sums up my code of living.  A triumphant night.