A Lighter Side of Life – Dervish, Hannah Rarity and Arthur Coates – 12th July, 2019 – Town Hall, Stonehaven
Stonehaven Folk Festival is now in its 31st year, and the triple bill of performers tonight at the Town Hall was a richly diverse grouping headlined by a band of a similar vintage to the festival itself.
Arthur Coates is from a farming background in Insch, Aberdeenshire, and has introduced a new term to the local music scene, podorythmie. This is foot percussion to the uninitiated and amounts to more than mere foot tapping. Imagine sitting and tapping out the complex rhythm of a jig or a reel with both feet on a board whilst you are actually playing the tune yourself with a fiddle. It looks, and probably is, quite a work-out but gives a real punch to the music. Even at a young age, Mr Coates is very much at home on stage and irreverently strays from the familiar format of naming every last jig, reel and air that he plays or giving detailed historical background. “This is another slow one” is the comment before a beautifully played anonymous air or “This is called Cow in the Kitchen and is about a cow going missing on the farm and being found in a place where it shouldn’t have been.” The lack of stuffiness is a breath of fresh air. A couple of his songs are less essential but, overall, his engaging performance is full of gusto and good humour underpinned by excellent playing, particularly of Quebecois material. He is accompanied sensitively (and energetically) by Kerran Cotterell on guitar. His first album, Focus, has just come out and is well worth a listen.
Hannah Rarity was Young Traditional Musician of the Year in 2018 at the age of 25. She must hear the word “sublime” a lot in relation to her singing but it is definitely apposite. She is accompanied by the fiddle playing of Sally Simpson and acoustic guitar of Anna Massie, both musicians who complement adeptly and give Ms Rarity plenty of space for that voice of hers. What becomes clear is how well she handles herself on stage with a mischievous sense of humour. It is performance of poise and class with perhaps the only mild criticism being the pacing of the middle of the show which relies upon a series of slower songs. She starts off brightly with Miller Tae My Trade followed by her own song Anna’s Lullaby, both from her Beginnings EP released in 2016, before working her way through the songs on her first album, Neath the Gloaming Star, released towards the tail end of last year. The set list includes the title track followed by Wander Through This Land Together (rudely interrupted by a technical sound fault where Sally Simpson has to back off from her mic as fiercesome white noise erupts, an adrenaline rush as she calls it), Hallowe’n, Violet Jacob’s poem after her son was killed at the Battle of the Somme put to music by the late Jim Reid (this week, it is exactly 10 years since the great man’s own death) , Dick Gaughan’s Erin Go Bragh, Julie Matthew’s Comes the Hour, Davey Steele’s Rose of Summerlee (which is sung unaccompanied and you can literally hear a pin drop), Alison Cross, Land of the Leal, and Andy M Stewart’s Where are you (Tonight I Wonder)? Her encore is the traditional Braw Sailing in the Sea which has the whole audience singing along. It is already clear that she will be a mainstay of the Scottish folk scene as long as she wishes to be.
Dervish have been around for 30 years, and are as fine ambassadors for Irish folk music as you will find today now that the folk legends of the Dubliners and Chieftains have left the stage. The playing is fluid and masterful. But, as on form as the Sligo players are, it is Cathy Jordan who provides the irresistable icing on the cake. The red haired singer is a live wire, her craic (and mild eccentricity) pulling the show along with wit and bonhomie. A good number of the songs she sings tonight are taken from their new album, The Great Irish Songbook, and she interprets them vividly – especially the faster ones which suit her voice best. It is difficult to imagine these tunes being played more precisely yet sympathetically and warmly by any current band. The players are Brian McDonagh (mandola), Michael Holmes (bouzouki), Shane Mitchell (accordion), Liam Kelly (flute/whistles), and Tom Morrow (fiddle) with Ms Jordan taking her turn on bodhran and bones for the instrumentals. The audience are treated to Kilavil Jigs, Hills of Greenmore, Donal Og, Baba Chronraio, The Rambling Irishman, Galway Shawl and a couple of encores finishing with a spirited Rocky Road to Dublin.
Throughout the show, the Stonehaven audience of approximately 250 that fill the old hall are both loud and melodious in their singing and this adds wonderfully to the occasion.