The first time I’ve been to Cecil Sharp house, home of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, and what do I see? Only three of the greatest individual British folk virtuosos together to pay homage to Mr Sharp, father of the English folk revival and collector of many songs in Australia and the USA, notably the Appalachians, which he toured during the First World War. I’m sure he would be most impressed with his Art Deco building in Camden Town, complete with panelled hall, the venue for this concert by three fine performers.
The artists in question are Martin Simpson, Andy Cutting and Nancy Kerr – who perform together as Simpson Cutting Kerr – or SCK as we might call them, in the tradition of ELP. SCK have made several albums together, quite apart from their own solo material, the latest of which, Murmurs, was widely praised and formed the backbone of this show.
Simpson is perhaps the best known, being a widely praised guitarist and banjoist whose solo songs include the wonderfully moving Never Any Good, a tribute to his late father. Kerr earned a fine reputation as a violinist and singer playing with her husband James Fagan, though she has several other bands and tours widely. Cutting specialises in the melodeon, and has won BBC2’s Folk Musician of the Year award no fewer than three times.
What is very noticeable through the show is that each if a fine soloist in his or her own right, but they are also happy to play ensemble and act as accompanists and allow each other a spot in the limelight. As are all the best players, Simpson, Cutting and Kerr are generous to a fault, respecting of one another’s capabilities and together more than the sum of their parts.
The mastery of technique and smoothly rehearsed numbers allow each musician to take note and interplay around one another’s licks. The ease with which they play complex numbers is a delight, though simpler folk ballads like the Charles Causley‘s poem put to music, Angel Hill, are joyful and fluent. The highlights of the evening included a raw and bluegrass banjo version of the old American tune Ruben, Kerr’s fresh and charming Dark Honey and Cutting’s Seven Years, though I could happily have listened to more. The fine music was matched by witty repartee and song histories relayed by each artist – which earned Cutting a cheer for his rare appearance at the mike.
The only real problem was not of the performers’ making – the hot and airless hall, causing a mass exodus out into the damp summer evening to grab a breath of fresh air. That apart, this was a truly thrilling evening in the company of some of the greatest folk musicians you will see anywhere, the sort we should all cherish.
Perhaps the most welcome moment came right at the start when Simpson announced “This concert is dedicated to Jo Cox” – the MP who was murdered on that day. I’m sure Mrs Cox would have been thrilled to be remembered by these excellent musicians.
***** (5 stars)