Live Review | The Duchess, York | Review by Allan Wilkinson
The Duchess in York is fast becoming one of my favourite venues, not just for the standard of gigs they put on, but for the relaxed and easy going atmosphere. The venue itself is both dark and cavernous, but at the same time comfortable and comforting. Tonight, the steady flow of silhouetted figures filed in at regular intervals and seemed to threaten to put the venue in danger of bursting. But that’s the other thing about The Duchess – it’s Tardis-like. There’s little wonder so many people turned up for tonight’s gig. Three of Scotland’s brightest young musicians had finally arrived in York as part of their much anticipated tour following the release of their acclaimed collaborative album Before the Ruin in 2008. John McCusker and Kris Drever are no strangers to the British folk scene after fruitful apprenticeships in both the Battlefield Band and Lau respectively, each gaining widespread accolades along the way. There’s a tendency to expect little other than consummate quality in anything McCusker touches and Drever just happens to have a knack of making things look much easier than they actually are. He’s one of those blokes that you imagine would have been just as good as a footballer or an astronaut had he answered those particular callings. Fortunately for us, he chose folk music to feverishly pursue instead. Idlewild’s charismatic front person Roddy Woomble adds a bunch of incredibly good songs together with a distinctive voice and a little bit of that rock ‘n’ roll sensibility and together we are presented with a unique combination. Billed in some places as ‘support’, Heidi Talbot and Boo Hewerdine infiltrate this Scottish stronghold with exceptional grace and represent both Ireland and England respectively, with first of all, one of the most delightful female voices on the folk music scene today and secondly, a gifted and much loved singer songwriter from Cambridge. You tend not to think of Heidi and Boo as support, but more or less as part of the band, taking equal place amongst the boys from North of the border. Opening with Jay Clifford’s “Cathedrals” we see Heidi and Boo for the first and last time as a duo before John McCusker and Kris Drever join them for pretty much the remainder of the set, which included performances of “Bedlam Boys”, the Tom Waits song “Time” and a couple of up tempo numbers, Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott’s “Music Tree” and Boo Hewerdine’s “Everything” all of which appear on Heidi’s current album. Boo Hewerdine managed to squeeze in a couple of songs from his latest release during the set including “Amen” and “White Lillies”, both of which he pointed out with his usual sardonic wit, come from the better of his two Toy Box mini CDs. Roddy Woomble joined the other musicians for the final number in the first set, a song that originated in the Appalachians “The Blackest Crow” which featured verses sung by Talbot, Woomble and Drever. Although the show was divided into two distinct halves, the first being dominated by Boo and Heidi and the second by the Drever, McCusker, Woomble trio, there’s the sense of a good old fashioned ‘session’ going on, with each of the artists wandering on and off stage when they feel surplus to requirements. Much of the second set was centred around the Drever, McCusker, Woomble collaboration album Before The Ruin, including the driving title song as well as “Silver and Gold”, “Into The Blue” and “Moments Last Forever”, peppered with some of the songs from Woomble and Drever’s respective solo albums My Secret Is My Silence and Black Water, including Woomble’s “Waverley Steps” and Drever’s interpretation of Boo Hewerdine’s “Harvest Gypsies”. Though the evening almost completely concentrated on a song based performance, the biggest applause ironically followed a show stopping stomper of a set of tunes courtesy of McCusker and Drever, who together as a duo brought the essence of the music of the Battlefield Band and Lau, yet losing none of the raw power and energy of the larger combos. You got the feeling that the audience could’ve done with a little more of that to warm them up on such a cold night. The concert was seasoned with some friendly banter concerning Kris Drever’s most recent win at the BBC Folk Awards, his band Lau picking up the award in the Best Group category, whilst McCusker playfully sulked at receiving no such award in the category of Best Musician, which he was rightly nominated for. Towards the end of the gig Kris Drever sang a faultless and beautiful rendition of “The Poorest Company” before the entire ensemble concluded with “Stuck in Time” which seamlessly segued into Kris Drever’s “Poor Man’s Son”. Another memorable concert at The Duchess.