A Winter Union – Live in Concert

Album Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 4/5

One disappointing aspect of becoming an adult is the likelihood of chronic cynicism setting in when it comes to the Festive Season, which in time may even become ever more pronounced if you let it. When did we stop sending Christmas cards because we were concerned about trees for instance? When was it okay to introduce profanity into a Dickens Christmas classic? When did we start wishing it was all over before November was done?  They say Christmas is for kids, which may or may not be true, but I sort of hanker after the excitement of those long gone days as I begin my third act. If there’s one thing that comes somewhere near conjuring up those ancient feelings, it’s not the smell of cooked turkey, nor is it the chilly feel of the oncoming snow, or indeed the sight of half a million lights attached to your next door neighbour’s garage. No, it’s very definitely the sound of songs and carols that bring out the seasonal cheer.

A Winter Union has become a tradition in itself simply because the musicians involved can do it so well and we can appreciate it. The launch of this live CD, recorded at the Otford Memorial Hall in Kent, precisely one year ago, coincided with the collective’s current tour, their final date being held at The Greystones in Sheffield. It was a rainy, not snowy night and the stage had been set to include a fully illuminated tree and winding holly busily climbing each of the microphone stands. A Winter Union is basically made up of two established folk duos, Ben Savage & Hannah Sanders, Katriona Gilmore & Jamie Roberts and Jade Rhiannon Ward of The Willows, that’s two highly distinctive voices and three extraordinary instrumentalists and much more besides, each of whom were only too pleased to sign several copies of this souvenir CD, suitable for one’s own collection or as Christmas gifts for pals and with Jess Morgan’s enchanting design, it also makes a fine decoration to sit next to the baubles on the Christmas Tree.

Most of the songs on the CD came out to play on the tour, traditional seasonal fare such as “We Three Kings” and “Ding Dong Merrily on High”, one or two originals, including Jade Rhiannon’s “Elizabeth Woodcock” and Katriona’s delicate “Every Midnight Mile” as well as a few well chosen, notably Robb Johnson’s “Boxing Day” and Robbie Robertson’s “Christmas Must Be Tonight”. Now normally such songs as Joni Mitchell’s “River” are considered sacrosanct, but Hannah Sanders delivers something close to perfection on both the album version and what we heard at the Greystones, with Ben Savage creating the sweetest of sounds as tone bar meets steel strings on his Dobro. Both this years’ live performance in Sheffield and the recording from last year remind us that Christmas really isn’t just for the kids, it’s for anyone with a sense of seasonal wonder.