The Snapdragons

Live Review | Old Ship Inn, Lowdham | Review by Allan Wilkinson

Singer-songwriter Rosie Doonan, together with fiddler Katriona Gilmore and guitar player Gary Stewart, collectively known as The Snapdragons, headed down to Lowdham near Nottingham tonight, for an all too rare Snapdragons gig at the Old Ship Inn, organised by a jolly bunch of Warthogs.  I stowed away in the back of the ‘tour bus’ in order to have a word or two with the band before reaching the gig and assisted the band in devouring the light refreshments and pre-gig snacks obtained from a service station along the way.  The fourth member of the Snapdragons, cellist Sarah Smout was unfortunately away studying down in Norwich and therefore was unable to make an appearance with the band tonight.  With Hedley Jones at the wheel, making the journey as smooth as possible, Rosie scribbled down an improvised set list in her notebook as the band brought me bang up to date with yet another episode in the life of Rosie Doonan; Moving On as always.  Rosie’s lineage is well chronicled, her grandfather being the legendary John Doonan, he of Flute of the Feis fame, once known in the North East as the Whistling Welder on account of his superb command over the piccolo, coupled with a reference to his day job, that of working in the Tyneside shipyards.  Before him, Rosie’s great grandfather and even her great great grandfather before him, were also musicians, fiddlers from the Irish tradition to be precise.  Rosie’s dad, Mick Doonan is also a stalwart of the British folk scene and a familiar face around Yorkshire and the North East for the past forty-odd years, having been a member of such high profile bands as Hedgehog Pie and the Doonan Family Band amongst others.  Rosie grew up in this rich musical environment and has developed her own distinctive song writing talents whilst at the same time cultivating her own individual voice through a period of uncertainty, mainly centred around the complex decisions of exactly which way to turn, pop music, folk music or rock n roll?  That voice is rich in texture, clear in delivery and is certainly a voice like no other.  Rosie formed the Snapdragons by ‘stealing’ fiddle player Katriona Gilmore from the all girl band Tiny Tin Lady and then going on to steal cello player Sarah Smout from the Bradford-based band Wilful Missing.  Gary Stewart is the newest recruit, recently added to the line up from the ranks of Rosie’s own band, swapping his drumsticks for guitar somewhere along the way.  He told me tonight that he’d “had his initiation and had passed the test”.  Tonight at the Old Ship Inn in Lowdham, the trio played before a very appreciative standing room only audience at this, the final night of their 2009/10 Warthogs season.  The band started with Rosie’s jazz inflected “Need You Around”, her regular opener, which made an appearance on both the Mill Lane album that Rosie made with Ben Murray, which in turn drew some attention from the folk establishment, subsequently gaining them a BBC Horizon Award nomination in 2006 and then once again re-vamped for her own Moving On solo album of 2007.  Showcasing one or two songs from Rosie’s forthcoming album, which we are reliably informed will be called Pot of Gold, the Snapdragons performed the Latin inspired title song as well as the delightfully intoxicating “Into the Fire”, a song that is difficult to get out of your head once heard; fortunately, it’s not the sort of melody you would want to get out of your head in a hurry.  Katriona’s mandolin is becoming just as assured as her fiddle playing and her organic flurries on these two songs wove fleetingly throughout.  Katriona Gilmore by her own admission comes from a less extensive musical family than Rosie, but informs us that her dad has played guitar in a good few bands including Stealers Wheel, providing his daughter with some impressive musical genes.  Alternating between the fiddle and mandolin and providing harmony vocals throughout the two sets tonight, Katriona, also a Horizon Award nominee in the most recent BBC Folk Awards along with regular musical partner Jamie Roberts, proved once again that she provides a beacon of light in the vast ocean that constitutes the current music scene.  The second set kicked off with a couple of songs from new Snapdragon member Gary Stewart, a drummer who is steadily moving into the singer songwriter field with a handful of songs destined for his debut solo album.  Whilst drawing up an imaginary Pete Frame type musical family tree in the tour bus, which already included Rosie’s vast family connections and Katriona’s connections with Stealers Wheel, the Roberts family and the Lakemans, it was only right for Gary to proudly point out that he is in fact Barbara Dickson’s third cousin.  The Snapdragon’s family tree needs more paper and another ink cartridge in my pen.  Tonight Gary played the songs “In the Pines” and “Maggio” as well as his fine version of the Paul Simon classic “The Sound of Silence”, all three accompanied by Rosie’s intuitive harmony vocal.  Along with Gary, there is another new addition to the Snapdragon family tree and that is Brian the ukulele, which went towards revealing another side to Rosie’s playing, that is accompanying songs that lend themselves more to the Music Hall tradition.  Victor tells of the fleeting attraction Rosie once experienced with a complete stranger in the audience and employs a fascinating barber shop chorus whilst TLC, a heartfelt song about her sister, is told with a contrasting jaunty lightness and has an irresistible and infectious refrain, ‘sometimes all I need is TLC’.  Tender loving care was undoubtedly the main ingredient when writing such songs as the utterly gorgeous “Holding On” and the much newer song “Lady Blue”, both which reveal Rosie’s strongest quality, that of a beautifully sensitive song writer.  When Rosie pays tribute to other writers, she makes sure she leaves an indelible stamp on them. I have to say, and this comes from a dyed-in-the-wool Joni Mitchell fan, Rosie Doonan’s stunning version of Woodstock for my money is the definitive version and having seen her perform it on several occasions, I don’t admit to that in a frivolous way.  Tonight was no exception as she performed the song, during which Rosie held the audience spellbound.  Finishing off with an encore of James Taylor’s timeless “You Can Close Your Eyes”, the Snapdragons rounded off a memorable night in Lowdham, having brought their own sense of fun, some remarkable musicianship and a bunch of songs to remember.