Karine Polwart

Live Review | The Drill Hall, Lincoln | Review by Allan Wilkinson

Once again, Lincoln’s Drill Hall played host to a class act tonight.  On a stage where just about anybody would look and sound good, with specific attention to detail afforded to both sound and lighting equally, the Karine Polwart Trio were presented by Old Bakery Promotions in a manner befitting such a quality combo.  The plaudits poured upon Karine since the release of her debut solo album Faultlines in 2003, have been numerous and I doubt there is much room left on the mantelpiece for the awards she could possibly pick up in the forthcoming months, particularly at the BBC Folk Awards in February, where she has been nominated for the Best Folk Singer award as well as having her current album This Earthly Spell nominated in the best album category.  There seems to be no stopping her.  For their Lincoln debut, the trio opened with “River’s Run”, a song specifically written for Karine’s “wee boy” Arlo.  Performing much of the current album, with a few well-chosen songs from her two previous albums Faultlines “The Sun’s Coming over the Hill” and Scribbled in Chalk “Daisy”, “Hole in the Heart” and “I’m Gonna Do it All”, the trio demonstrated how tightly-honed their arrangements have become in preparation for this short winter tour.  Joining Karine on stage were brother Steve on guitar and Inge Thomson on just about everything else.  The contribution of these two musicians should not be underestimated both in terms of their musical integrity and vocal dexterity.  Their combined harmony singing on “The Good Years” for instance, brings an almost celestial beauty to the arrangement, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Angel Choir of the imposing Cathedral just up the lane.  Alternating between standard guitar and tenor guitar, and interspersed with Steve and Inge’s name guessing game, prompted by Inge’s use of the house lectern to rest yet another interesting new instrument upon; “it’s like a thumb piano with its own wah wah pedal” we were informed, Karine brought to Lincoln some of her most beautiful songs such as “Waterlily” and “The Good Years”.   “Sorry” with its discordant tenor guitar motif, reflecting the songs’ discordant subject matter, of whom Karine refers to as “the most important man in the world”, reminded me once again of the quality of song making that Karine is capable of.  Aside from writing and recording songs for her own solo albums, Karine has always found time to engage in valuable side projects, which are treated with just as much focus and attention as her own projects.  “Well for Zoë” is the opening song from a new CD in aid of the Irish-Malawian rural water development organisation of the same name, which Karine wrote especially for the project, collaborating specifically with Tim O’Brien and sharing contribution credits with the likes of Heidi Talbot, Michael McGoldrick and Beth Nielsen Chapman.  Choosing such songs as this to play tonight, together with “Firethief”, one of the songs written for the 2006 Radio Ballad series, shows just how important these songs are to Karine, and just how important it is to keep singing them.  Towards the end of the night, Karine turned to a droning musical laptop, presumably from the ancient family of harmoniflutes, and invited the audience to join her on an infectious lullaby, the chorus of which was made up of two words ‘beo beo’ meaning ‘life, life’ in Gaelic.  If this is generally the last sound little Arlo hears before nodding off at night, then I dare say the wee little chap is in a very privileged position indeed, and with regard to much of his mum’s recent output, proves once again that his namesake wasn’t the only fellah to have a brilliant wordsmith for a parent.