Rachel Croft, The Kimberleys and Sam Scherdel

Live Review | CAST Theatre, Doncaster | Review and Photos by Allan Wilkinson

Once again Doncaster has been treated to a rich and varied evening of music at the CAST Theatre with a triple bill made up of visiting artists from both the north of Doncaster and the south of Doncaster, together with a local singer songwriter from just up the road. Easing us into what promised to be an entertaining evening of top quality musicianship, Mexborough’s own Sam Scherdel delivered a short set of self-penned songs, together with a tastefully rendered Billy Joel cover, “She’s Always a Woman”, proving once again that you needn’t throw a stone too far before it hits some homegrown talent. Sam’s set was almost an add-on to the main bill, which therefore had to be relatively short, leaving little room for between song chit-chat. It was pretty much down to business with five songs, each delivered in Sam’s trademark rasping indie-rock vocal.

Next up was the Nottingham-born, now York-based singer songwriter Rachel Croft, who took the middle set, with a varied selection of songs that traversed everything from the world of pop, jazz, soul, folk and even French chanson, each song delivered in a pitch perfect voice, which really couldn’t have been bettered. This may have much to do with the excellent sound team at CAST, but probably more to do with Rachel’s own God given talents. The second space at CAST theatre always provides for an intimate setting, where every syllable can be heard from the the most piercing high note to the lowest fading breath. Rachel provided both throughout her set and lots more in between.

Opening with “Rainier Day”, one of the songs from her debut album Hours Awake, Rachel delicately picked her guitar, which provided sparse accompaniment, which in turn enabled us to focus on her rich and occasionally sultry voice. “Only Dreams” with its ‘free falling’ refrain, demanded our attention through which a pin could have been heard had one been dropped. It doesn’t take long to warm to Rachel’s character, who speaks of old boyfriends, of best friends and of her relationship with her guitar, which she learned to play by poring over online tablature websites. Channeling Edith Piaf, Rachel treated the audience to a rather uplifting “La Vie En Rose”, whilst also taking us to church with the Reverend Al Green and a superb reading of his gorgeous 1971 hit “Let’s Stay Together”. During the break, Rachel was approached by a number of new fans who were eager to compare her voice to everyone from Joan Baez to Joni Mitchell and Norah Jones to Joss Stone. To this reviewer though, Rachel Croft has the voice of Rachel Croft and long may it sing.

Appearing in Doncaster for the first time, the London-based duo The Kimberleys drew on the wealth of traditional material, arranged and delivered in their own idiosyncratic style, which defies logic but sounds superb at the same time. Their syncopated instruments might be playing completely different things simultaneously, but together it all sounds just right. Isobel and Jim approach their music with intelligence and inventiveness, with a focus on storytelling, notably their treatment of the sprawling “Tam Lin”, which never loses its impact through an ever changing arrangement, a combination of Sandy Denny, Crosby Stills and Nash and the Incredible String Band all rolled into one. It was probably the most engaging seven minutes of the entire evening. Other highlights included creative re-workings of “Elsie Marley”, “The Smart Schoolboy” and Ewan MacColl’s “Sweet Thames”, together with a clever mash up of “The Doffin Mistress” and “Broom Bezzums”, before closing both the set and the concert with a rousing “Hard Times of Old England”.

Despite it being a slimmed down audience for tonight’s show, the quality of both the music and the entertainment was second to none, another fine music event that stands alongside such recent shows as Seth Lakeman’s A Pilgrim’s Tale launch, Show of Hands and double bills featuring Steve Tilston/Reg Meuross and Chris While and Julie Matthews/Boo Hewerdine. An there’s more to come.