Kris Drever and Anna Massie

Live Review | Thornensians RUFC, Thorne | Review by Allan Wilkinson

The Thornensians Rugby Union Club played host to the second in a series of folk concerts in Thorne on the outskirts of Doncaster tonight as the town once again tried its hand at bringing major folk acts to local ears without having them venture too far out of town.  Still very much in its infancy as a folk music venue, the club once again experimented with how best to position the stage area in the clubhouse for instance, it being arranged slightly differently from the first night back in October, which featured guests Heidi Talbot, Boo Hewerdine and John McCusker.  Coincidentally the second in this series was also the second gig in Kris Drever’s current solo tour, solo that is apart from his current touring partner, multi-instrumentalist Anna Massie, explaining earlier that he’s “not in love with being a solo artist, it’s kind of lonely and there’s nay craic”.  Well if you’re going to invite someone along to help with the ‘craic’, look no further than Anna Massie, who Kris Drever refers to as his ‘little musical howitzer’; a musician of unquestionable talent, who appears equally at home on fiddle and mandolin as well as being an extraordinary flat-pick guitar player.  Featuring a couple of sets of material drawn from Drever’s newly released album Mark the Hard Earth, the duo performed in a relaxed, almost casual manner before a healthily sized audience gathered once again in the clubhouse.  As one third of the award winning folk supergroup Lau, the tall figure of Drever has gained the reputation as one of the finest musicians in the country, blessed with a distinctive voice and dexterous guitar playing style, but at the same time, a musician who maintains an unaffected and effortless boy next door attitude and demeanour, whether he’s on some of the countries biggest stages with Lau or the smallest in Britain’s folk clubs with whoever he is enjoying the craic with.  Starting with “Steel and Stone”, the lead song from Drever’s first solo outing Black Water, Kris reminded us once again of what a fine interpreter of contemporary song he actually is.  Sandy Wright’s distinctive song repertoire has been visited once again on the new album by Kris and both “Shining Star” and “Wild Hurricane” make welcome inclusions to Drever’s current live set, which also includes Wright’s earlier “Beads and Feathers”.  Drever likes to point out that not only is Wright “a tremendous jazz guitar player, pianist, drummer, singer, composer, songwriter, trumpeter and accordionist, but also very good at close up magic and balloon tying.  A very well rounded individual”.  Likewise, Boo Hewerdine is another key songwriter from whose repertoire Drever is only too pleased to draw from.  Hewerdine’s songs are perhaps (so far) the most commonly heard here at the Rugby Club, having himself appeared at the venue on the club’s inaugural night, but also having been featured in tonight’s support spot and then again with Drever and Massie’s performances of “Sweet Honey in the Rock” and “Harvest Gypsies”.  It really was Sandy and Boo’s night it seems.  Anna Massie’s exceptional mandolin work on such songs as Phil Colclough’s “Call and the Answer” and the traditional “Shady Grove”, the penultimate song of the night, brought a new dimension to the songs as did her fiddle work, especially on the traditional tunes and on Paul Cranford’s “Fenella” and Ola Bäckström’s “I’m Not Tired of the Pacific Ocean”.  Each of the individual songs and the fine instrumental arrangements showcased the duo’s dextrous cohesion and flair for playing together and no better than on some breathtaking duelling guitar work during a set of traditional tunes in the first half.  The award-winning musician not only provided intuitive instrumentation but also some fine harmony vocals, deputising for the likes of Tim O’Brien more than adequately.  There was also a surprise inclusion to the set, a re-working of Lal Waterson’s atmospheric “Midnight Feast”, which has just been released by Lau on an EP featuring Karine Powart, which must’ve been something of a premiere.  I almost imagined Kris would’ve left out his brother Duncan’s “The Crown of London” due to the complex rhythm arrangement provided by Ian Carr’s guitar contribution together with Tim O’Brien’s banjo and Donald Shaw’s harmonium and the outstanding rhythm section of Andy Seward and Roy Dodds on the album version.  I momentarily forgot that Kris had Anna with him, therefore no such worries.  Her intuitive mandolin work brought the song to life and made for one of the night’s highlights.  The other highlight being the beautiful “Mickey Finn’s”, a wistful air that precedes the equally beautiful interpretation of the traditional “Green Grows the Laurel”, again from Drever’s first album.  With the release of Drever’s second solo album, came the obvious dilemma of what to leave out of his live performances.  Who would’ve imagined a solo Drever gig devoid of “Braw Sailin’” or “Fause Fause” for example?  With Drever’s fine interpretation of the traditional “Shady Grove”, the duo completed the night’s performance with a further encore of the timely “Farewell to Fuineray”.  The support for tonight’s concert was, like the first concert in this series, drawn from local talent.  Strange Triangle, featuring Rick Chappell on guitar, Ian Garner also on guitar and harmonica, Mike Davies on percussion and Mick Phillipson on bass, brought the kind of warm up that the main guests usually enjoy; a set of familiar songs to set feet tapping and get the audience in the mood for a good night.  Full marks for their effort as the aforementioned Boo Hewerdine, along with Messers Paul Weller, Bob Dylan, Lennon and McCartney, Billy Bragg and Richard Thompson were represented with the respective “59 Yards”, “Wildwood”, “I Shall Be Released”, “Norwegian Wood”, “Which Side Are You On” and “Wall of Death”, the final song played as a heartfelt tribute to their friend who sadly passed away earlier in the week.