Womenfolk – Kathryn Williams, Georgia Ruth, Maz O’Connor – The Kazimier, Liverpool

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Kathryn Williams

Kathryn Williams

On a bitingly cold winter’s evening, Getintothis’ Paul Higham felt the warmth of the music and the easy Womenfolk charm in a sparsely attended Kazimier.

The last time we entered The Kazimier to be greeted by seats was back in the autumn for a pretty special Jerusalem In My Heart show. If not a case of deja-vu, once again those not in attendance at the sparsely populated Kazimier missed a genuine treat of a show that warmed the cockles on a bitterly cold winter’s evening.

Billed as a “Womenfolk” tour it’s fair to say that we weren’t entirely sure what to expect. Kathryn Williams had previously played a terrific show at Leaf last year so we were well aware of her special talents. But what of her fellow artists and rising stars in folk circles, Georgia Ruth and Maz O’Connor? Well, they both revealed themselves as supremely gifted songwriters with affecting voices and array of poignantly heart-wrenching folk ballads to match.

What was a surprise, and a pleasant one at that, was the format. The three artists shared the stage for the entirety of the evening and each played a selection of their own songs while the other two looked on in rapt attention.

It transpired that the artists had not met each other prior to the show and it provided an interesting experience for both artist and fan alike. Watching performer watch performer in a setting that harked back to old-fashioned folk nights of yore was revealing. Each with slightly different backgrounds it reminded that the folk tradition might not yet be the preserve of a bygone era as artists can still share material and find connections in shared experiences.

Given the weather and the bitingly cold temperature in the Kazimier itself, it seemed fitting that winter provided a common theme for many of the night’s songs. Certainly performing on stage provided an unusual set of challenges as gloves were passed from audience to performer to ensure fingers remained supple and sufficiently dextrous to pick songs on both harp and acoustic guitar.

Maz O’Connor even offered a brief, if informative, biology lesson. Bemoaning the effect of the cold on her extremities she suggested that women are more prone to cold hands and feet as their bodies have to preserve heat for the purposes of ovulation. Warmth for ovaries? It was that sort of night.

Georgia Ruth opened the night and, taking a few minor technical hiccups in her stride, demonstrated a deftness on the harp and a pure and lilting voice. Her voice came into its own on the night’s second number, a traditional sea shanty delivered in her native Welsh language free from musical adornment. The effect was haunting. You could almost hear her voice rising atmospherically above the early morning ocean mist.

Kathryn Williams offered a contrast to the more traditional folk leanings of her fellow performers. Gave It Away evoked the wide spaces of America with what felt like a personal lament to a lost love. Poignant and bittersweet, the song provides that title to her album, recalling that before he was The King, Elvis drove trucks for Crown Electric.

For such an assured performer with talent in abundance, the night and its setting provided a reminder that even the most gifts have battles with self-doubt. Williams, it appeared, felt over-awed to be sharing the stage with two such gifted folk traditionalists. She bemoaned that serious artistic recognition appeared elusive, perhaps on account of being considered too folk by the pop world and too pop for the folk purists.

Other highlights included O’Connor‘s delicate rendering of traditional folk song, The Grey Selkie, a nineteenth century ballad telling the doomed love story of a woman whose child was fathered by a selkie, a man on land but a seal at sea. Ruth reduced made things go a little bit dusty with a faithful rendition of Blue, which can’t help but tug at every pet lover’s heartstrings.

Both Williams and O’Connor revealed a little more of the inspiration behind the modern folk singers’ oeuvre and the development of their song. Williams was specially commissioned to write a song based around Sylvia Plath‘s The Bell Jar for the Durham Book Festival. Williams enjoyed the creative spur so much that she is turning the project into a full album which her label, One Little Indian, has agreed to release.

O’Connor was similarly commissioned to produce a song for the Broadstairs Folk Festival‘s 2013 celebration of women. She presented her original composition, Derby Day, which told the story, from the perspective of a young boy perched atop his father’s shoulders, of the death of Emily Davison beneath the King’s horse during the Epsom Derby.

Hearing both of these songs offered welcome reassurance that enough people that care about ensuring the folk traditions remain alive and that new original songs by the brightest and most talented are supported by cultural events.

Final word must go to Williams. A revealingly self-deprecating introduction, “this song was written about one hundred years ago by a cowboy in a white T-shirt“, to a brilliantly understated Dancing In The Dark illuminating the talent of Williams and the qualities of the original song.              

In a venue so cold that everyone’s collective breath provided a smoke-machine substitute, what warmed the soul most was the shared folk spirit and the communality. Keep the flame burning, you might just need it to keep warm.

Pictures by Getintothis’ Martin Saleh.

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