Ruth Notman

Live Review | Roots Music Club, Ukrainian Centre, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Photos by Keith Belcher

It’s almost twelve years since Ruth Notman last appeared in Doncaster, on that occasion at the Regent Hotel one cold February evening way back in 2008.  Tonight the Nottinghamshire-born singer was back in town, suitably equipped to play before a small audience with nothing other than the desire to take the audience on a little walk down Memory Lane, with plenty of familiar songs to choose from.  Ruth promised a handful from each of her two solo album releases Threads and The Life of Lilly, together with a couple of more recent songs. Doncaster’s welcoming package on this occasion included a warm room, a good stage, a very good sound system, a small but well behaved audience and an entertaining support spot delivered by Raymond Greenoaken, who should be mentioned not least for his sheer ingenuity alone. Performing each of his songs on an upside down five-string banjo with its fifth string tuning peg clearly becoming an obstacle; definitely a feat to be commended.  Added to all these welcoming treats was a police car chase outside the venue in the neighboring streets with their sirens sounding off. Okay, these are not quite the streets of Bogata, but it can be a little unnerving for a solo singer about to perform for the first time in a while nonetheless.

With her piano stage right and her guitar stage left, Ruth opened with something free of instrumentation, gently easing the audience in, while effectively introducing her very distinctive sound to those who might have forgotten, or those new to her voice, before picking up the guitar to revisit “Billy Don’t You Weep For Me”, a song Ruth learned from Nic Jones. “I once sang at a festival with Nic Jones sitting right behind me..” she noted, going on to relay how terrifying it was.  Performing a selection of her own self-penned songs, such as “Lonely Day Dies”, “Roaming” and the delicate “Holding On”, Ruth switched between guitar and piano, with each of her own songs dove-tailing perfectly with the non-originals, “Limbo” and “Fause Fause” for example.

A fan of the TV series ‘Larkrise to Candleford’, Ruth confessed to being pleased that her reading of the traditional “The Hedger and the Ditcher” was used in the series, “though it was not credited!” remarked the singer with a slight pout.  Ruth’s set also included the much requested “Caledonia” from the pen of Dougie MacLean, which is probably her most requested song. Despite the rarity of solo performances in recent years, Ruth was involved in a surprise duo collaboration earlier this year with Sam Kelly, who between them worked at Kate Rusby’s studio on an album released on Kate Rusby’s Pure Records label, which was also produced by Kate Rusby’s husband Damien O’Kane.  “Did I mention Kate Rusby enough there?” Ruth quipped, before delivering a fine solo performance of the album’s title song “Changeable Heart,” co-written with the aforementioned Sam Kelly.    

Only too pleased to welcome some audience participation tonight, especially during her own a cappella family favourite “Rory McRory”, Ruth was probably not quite expecting the arrival of a canary in the room, disguised as a member of the audience, who continued to whistle along to each of the melodies throughout the remainder of the set, which included the gentle “Farewell, Farewell” and a reading of Sandy Denny’s much loved “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” for an encore.  The chirping left some members of the audience understandably bewildered; after all, there was only room at the Ukrainian Centre tonight for one song bird, and a veritable Nottinghamshire Nightingale at that.