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Live: Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker at The Forge, Camden (19 July 2013)

July 20, 2013

Fire and Fortune 300x300In her introductory comments to the launch of Fire & Fortune, Josienne Clarke promised us “Melancholia, melancholia and melancholia”. The truth, as it turned out, was somewhere in between. What we actually got was the new album in its entirety with a couple of non-album tracks for good measure, with the prodigiously talented Josienne and Ben – backed variously by half-a-dozen top-flight musicians – and some of the finest contemporary and traditional folk tunes in a stunningly high quality performance by all concerned.

And the melancholia? Well, it does rather go with the territory in much folk music, but I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. Sad songs are often uplifting because they speak to the human condition: moods and emotions which we all experience sometimes. And songs which tap into that commonality can be immensely reassuring: they remind us that we’re not alone, that others have felt the same way and found a way through even the darkest nights. Josienne and Ben’s music draws on that simple humanity and presents it in a way that anyone can comprehend.

The setlist, like the album, was split between approximately one-third traditional material and two-thirds Josienne and Ben’s own songs and arrangements and, if you weren’t familiar with the music, you’d probably have been hard-pressed to tell which was which. So it was that established standards like ‘My Love Is Like A Red Red Rose’ and ‘When A Knight Won His Spurs’ flowed seamlessly into new songs like ‘After Me’ and ‘Another Perfect Love’. Similarly, it’s a mark of Ben Walker’s mastery of his craft that his precise yet flowing guitar playing brought together such a diversity of material without ever jarring.

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Highlights of the two-part set included an almost primal rendition of ‘Anyone But Me’, with Bradley Blackwell’s double bass looming out of the thunderstorm of Ruairi Glasheen’s bodhran, and the empathic interplay between the strings of Basia Bartz and Anna Jenkins (violins) and Jo Silverston’s cello in ‘Sycamore Tree’; the coda sounding particularly exquisite. Special mention must go to Samantha Whates who opened the evening with a selection of songs mostly drawn from her criminally overlooked 2011 album Dark Nights Make for Brighter Days before providing harmony vocals which perfectly counterpointed Josienne’s astonishing range and timbre.

Josienne and Ben were deservedly called back for two encores: the album’s title track with its distinctive and highly contemporary looped vocal backing track providing a foil for some double bass playing, the likes of which Danny Thompson would have been proud, and a sparse but elegant cover of Sandy Denny’s ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes?’. These two songs between them are almost a microcosm of Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker’s sound: thoroughly contemporary yet never afraid to draw from a musical tradition which touches us all.

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Setlist: First half

After Me
I Wonder What Is Keeping My True Love Tonight
My Love Is Like A Red Red Rose
Anyone But Me
No Such Certainty
Green Grow The Laurels
Sycamore Tree

Setlist: Second half

The Month Of January
The Seasons
La Cancion
Another Perfect Love
A Pauper And A Poet
When A Knight Won His Spurs
Encore: Fire And Fortune
Encore: Who Knows Where The Time Goes?

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