at the Harlequin Theatre,
Northwich Folk Club,
(19 September 2003)
The excellence of Malinky's lead vocalist, Karine Polwart, had been recognised at the previous weekend's Scots Trad Music Awards in Edinburgh with her well-deserved accolade as Best Scots Singer. With Malinky, she sings in the distinguished company of four talented musicians that, with her, create an exciting, lively and memorable sound.
The gig could not have started with a better song than "Billy Taylor," which is also the opening number of the band's last album, 3 Ravens. It is quite a surprise to realise that such a beautiful song actually involves subjects like adultery, cross-dressing and murder! The second song was inspired by a poem "Witches" by the great Orcadian poet George Mackay Brown, and featured soulful fiddle by the excellent Jon Bews. After this slower number, the band was in full throttle with an upbeat set of instrumentals with whistles played by Mark Dunlop and Leo McCann.
One of the highlights of the evening was Steve Byrne's "The Lang Road Doon." As well as playing the guitar on this song, Byrne leads the vocals in his distinctive local Angus dialect with Polwart and Bews providing harmony vocals, as well as additional guitar and fiddle, respectively. With the addition of Dunlop on low whistle and McCann on box, the song created a wonderful tapestry of sound through the theatre. The poignancy of the lyrics about leaving loved ones behind was underpinned by the lyrical and haunting fiddle.
A set of tunes composed by Bews, starting with "Llantrisant Ladies," was a great showcase for his mesmerising fiddle playing underpinned by Dunlop's bodhran that was such a feature of the gig, too. One of the most emotional numbers was a song about Bosnia starting with an extraordinary lamenting whistle by Dunlop and single guitar note by Byrne. Some moving singing here by Polwart was accentuated by Bews' mournful fiddle.
A lively set of tunes reminded me more than a little of Flook with the band's original and very contemporary interpretation through exciting whistle, bodhran and guitar playing. Another upbeat song was "The Rovin' Ploughboy," with Dunlop playing a tiny whistle. I am intrigued how the band manages to continue to look so laidback while playing at such a breathtaking pace!
A rousing conclusion was provided by an English song by John Conolly of Grimsby, "The Trawlin' Trade," in which Byrne was again impressive leading the vocals with Polwart backing and the whole band creating an incredible sound -- especially Dunlop's vibrant bodhran playing. After an enthusiastic reception from the enthralled audience, the band returned to perform "Follow the Heron" as an encore. This is another exceptional composition by Polwart. It was composed after a gig at the 2002 Shetland Folk Festival. The stunning chorus -- "By night and day / We'll sport and we'll play / And delight as the dawn dances over the bay / Sleep blows the breath of the morning away / And we follow the heron home" -- rung in my ears long after the gig had finished.