Comus - Shirley Collins - Hladowski & Joynes @ Islington Assembly Hall, London - Sep 21 2013.
Hladowski & Joynes
It is a rare road appearance for DC ROCK LIVE as I head to London for about 30 hours to ensure that I take in this once in a lifetime billing. The venue is a classy hall with a huge stage, plenty of seating downstairs and a balcony (about Fillmore sized). It is full of serious music lovers who are almost certainly with me in anticipation of seeing two absolutely essential artists from different poles of the UK folk scene.
But first is an unknown duo for me and I believe much of the audience. We can all quickly see why they are on this bill as this folk duo has an ethereal, classic English folk style that sounds like something you would discover deep into a 1960s/1970s folk record collector's list. Hladowski offers exquisite female vocals and light percussion, while Joynes plays fingerstyle acoustic guitar with an occasional harmony vocal. If you have ever heard Joan Mills and Michael Raven, then you will have a clear idea of this sound.
This duo manages to capture that ancient folk tradition where it is easy to conjure up historical images and moods captured in books, movies, Pre-Raphaelite paintings, and much more. This is a lovely 35 minute set that went over well with this wise audience. There is not much new in the music or interpretation, but there are not many performers that can capture this sound so well.
I was stunned to see the 78-year old English cultural legend (Billy Bragg's description) on the bill. I had heard she retired quite some time ago, but see that she is still performing in a different manner. Ms. Collins (actually with an MBE, I believe it is Dame Collins) is joined by actor Pip Barnes as they narrate a program called "I'm a Romany Rai". This is one of three illustrated (power point) talks that Shirley Collins performs that all relate to historical folk songs. One of the talks focus on America, where in her early years she worked with husband Alan Lomax as they chronicled Appalachian Folk and Mississippi Delta blues singers and songs.
That is one, but tonight it is one of her two UK programs, this one focusing on Gypsy singers and the folk songs of Southern England. She packed a lot of interesting history with some amusing stories as photos of the artists and scenes of the times flashed by. There were several recordings from these artists that they played and most of these are available on a compact disc she edited. I have read her excellent biography focusing on her work in America, so it was nice to see the same effort and detail here in this English program. There was much to take in, both in history and music, and I was rapt the entire time.
Quite simply, there is no band that plays in a traditional format that sounds as wildly unique as Comus. Rather than write a chapter on their amazing history, I would advise any serious music fan to do the research. It is a strange tale with 1971's "First Utterance" is one of the most amazing albums of all-time. They reformed about five years ago as a huge cult of fans (including me) from all over the world went to Stockholm to see their return. The overwhelming response has kept them going with spot shows in Europe and Japan and a new recording of three new songs, along with an archival suite.
Although they were to play "First Utterance" in entirety tonight, I was happy that they worked in the newer material as well. As it turned out, there was an enforced curfew that did not allow them to play "Bite" and "Bitten", but the 69 minutes they played, displayed all the magic of their music and showcased the incredible skills of every member. Five of the Six members are original, with Bobbie Watson's husband Jon Seagroatt has been here all five years, covering the flute and percussion parts and even adding a touch of sax to the newer cuts.
Even when they get a little lost or all have to follow lead singer/guitarist Roger Wooten's pace, they are all so skilled and know this music so deeply, they easily pull it together. Most of they time, they are fully locked in and not only are they as transportive as any band you could imagine, but they transport you to places that no bands had ever been before, and very few can get anywhere near since. The first time I saw them the crowd had a shared sense of disbelief that the show was even happening. This time around, there is more of an understanding of their present existence, but there was no less a sense of marvel at the amazing music from this extraordinary band.
First published @ dcrocklive.blogspot.com.
Photo Credits: (1) Comus, (2) CD Cover (unknown/from website).