Chris and Kellie While

Live Review | House Concert, Wombwell | Review by Allan Wilkinson

The first thing that crossed my mind once mum and daughter duo Chris and Kellie While took to the stage tonight was why on earth this doesn’t happen more often.  The times I’ve caught them together you can count on one finger; well to be perfectly accurate, two fingers now.  Tonight Chris and Kellie were invited to play a couple of sets at a private function in the garden of the Jones family in the small town of Wombwell, near Barnsley, where an invited audience gathered to see two of the most gifted singers in the South Yorkshire area, and whose voices have over the past few years rippled outwards to each of the four corners of the globe, and justly so.  Chris While seems equally at home in Hedley’s back garden as on a concert hall stage, or for that matter, in front of thousands, as in the most recent case when she was part of the original Liege and Lief line up of Fairport Convention on stage at Cropredy last year, where she took on the unenviable task of standing in for the late Sandy Denny; no mean feat, in fact, I imagine the very thought of that would be positively frightening.  Not only did she do a splendid job, she was actually accepted by the league of Sandy Denny fans whose memory of her is almost sacrosanct.  Such is the standard of Chris’s singing.  2007 was also a good year for Kellie, who was seen on the main stage at the Cambridge Folk Festival, helping Martin Simpson launch his highly acclaimed Prodigal Son album, on which Kellie contributes.  Kellie is a chip off the not-so-old block, so to speak.  Possessed of a much softer, warmer voice than mum, Kellie provides that all essential counterpoint to Chris’s melodic lines and vice versa.  Their individual voices are really quite enough for any performance, but it is those harmonious choruses that inevitably bring on the goose bumps, you know, the head to toe type; chicken skin music.  Not only do these two women have song writing skills in abundance, they share an impeccable taste for great songs from a variety of diverse sources and select them wisely and intuitively.  The body of work provided by Chris While and regular partner Julie Matthews is a good place to start and it must be said, forms the bedrock of Chris and Kellie’s set.  “Love is an Abandoned Car” is a song that could quite easily have fitted snugly into the Gregson/Collister repertoire without a single raised eyebrow, in their initial Home and Away/Mischief period.  The harmony singing is of that same quality, but with the added bonus of genetics.  What works for Richard and Teddy Thompson, works equally well for a mother and daughter and the excellent “Persuasion” was one of tonight’s highlights.  Aside from the songs, Chris and Kellie have a delightful stage manner, especially when amongst friends.  Kellie cheerfully berates her own song writing and insists that there are too many good songs already out there to sing.  Whilst Chris tells of encounters with Tim and Mollie O’Brien in the introduction to “Don’t Let Me Come Home a Stranger” and hearing songs by little known writers from all over the globe such as David Francey “Green Fields” and Michael Kennedy “Lately”, Kellie is happy to reveal, saving her mum the trouble, that as a child she once wrote to Jimmy Saville to see if he could ‘fix it’ for her to sing with Culture Club and confessed that the biggest dilemma before leaving the house tonight was whether it was possible or not to record Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor at the same time.  It’s difficult for a family duo not to bring something of their home life to the stage and it’s because of these little anecdotes that we warm to them even more.  Introducing a Paul Metsers song as coming from an ‘old family friend’ and recollections of frequently having Mike Silver around at the house, referring to him as a ‘great undiscovered talent’, Chris and Kellie went on to perform Metsers’ “When Lady Music Holds, You Sway” and Silver’s “Let it be so” as if they were their own, so close are they to the song sources.  Towards the end of the set, Chris and Kellie abandoned the PA to bring us even closer to the spirit of home, playing a fabulous version of Jimmy Webb’s “Highwayman” whilst fireworks from a neighbouring party lit up the night sky above the marquee.  I had a particularly good vantage point sitting on some decking at the back of the garden where I could see both fireworks and performers simultaneously.  Chris and Kellie concluded the evening with a heartfelt alfresco and au natural (unplugged if you please) performance of Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” which was a thoroughly delightful climax to a great and memorable night.