Ruth Notman and Sam Kelly

Live Review | The Greystones, Sheffield | Review and Photos by Allan Wilkinson

It was as far back as the Spring of 2017 when I engaged in a conversation with Sam Kelly outside the Old Town Hall in Driffield at one of Leila Cooper’s splendid Moonbeams March Weekends, during which the singer revealed the news that he was planning to get together with Nottinghamshire singer Ruth Notman “to do a few songs.” Sam pointed out how important Ruth was in his own burgeoning music career in the years before the singer took a break from music to concentrate on her studies. Since then I’ve kept an ear to the ground in eager anticipation of this long awaited musical liaison.

Fast forward to February 2019 and the arrival of the acclaimed Changeable Heart, the duo’s first album together, produced by Damien O’Kane and released through Pure Records, Kate Rusby’s record label, together with their first UK tour, with dates in London, Cambridge, Nottingham and York among others. Tonight, for their second show of the tour, the duo arrived in Sheffield, equipped with a couple of guitars, a piano, a piano accordion and two distinctive voices, together with all the charm the pair were born with. They also brought with them a bunch of well arranged traditional and contemporary songs, notably the infectious and uplifting title song from the album, the duo’s first collaborative composition as joint writers.

Relaxed and composed, the two musicians appeared to enjoy each other’s company on stage, almost like siblings who haven’t seen each other in a while. There’s an easy going rapport between both themselves and the audience, together with a sense that neither knows what the other is about to say between the songs, which comes across as quite sweet. Whilst Sam alternates between acoustic guitar and electric guitar accompanied by some slick keyboard gadgetry, Ruth sticks mainly to the piano, with occasional accordion and guitar.

Performing their new album in its entirety, albeit in a different order, the duo work best with shared vocal parts, such as on their thoroughly engaging interpretation of Paul Brady’s “The Island”, one of the highlights of the set. Ruth and Sam’s voices work well together in harmony on such songs as “Caw the Yowes”, “My Lagan Love” and “Sweet Lass of Richmond Hill”, each dropping in and out at just the right intervals. On “Gwrello Glaw (Let it Rain)”, Sam treats the audience to a song delivered in the Cornish language, a song from the repertoire of The Changing Room, Sam’s collaboration with Tanya Brittain. Ruth’s own songs have always been of particular interest and tonight the audience was treated not only to her latest song “As You Find Your Way Home”, but also the more familiar “Roaming” and “Lonely Day Dies”, both of which brought back warm memories of the Threads wunderkind of 2007.

Hearing such songs as “Heather Down the Moor” and “Caledonia” once again clearly makes us very much aware of the huge talent we have in Ruth Notman, and with Sam Kelly’s enthusiasm and gentle encouragement, the two have managed to pull off something very special indeed and one sincerely hopes that Changeable Heart isn’t a one-off.