Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The Carrivick Sisters + Blair Dunlop Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath, Birmingham Sunday 17th March 2013

The Carrivick Sisters first came to my attention a couple of years ago when they played a short set at the Moseley Folk Festival. The lasting impression of that brief initial encounter was how they had impressively based their sound on old time Appalachia with core instrumentation of banjo, fiddle, dobra and mandolin. This very Americana style was unique amongst the wave of UK folk musicians who appeared on the day. So a mission was undertaken to further seek them out and ultimately catch one of their lives shows where the set would be considerably longer.

Fast forward eighteen months and eventually an opportunity arose to see them at the Kitchen Garden Café in Birmingham. The show was virtually billed as a double header with rising folk star Blair Dunlop and thus the appeal of both acts swelled the quaint venue’s attendance to its modest capacity. The format of the evening was fairly formulaic with Blair opening before being joined by the girls for his final track. The Sisters followed with a slightly longer set before inviting Blair to play on their closing numbers.

With a prestigious BBC Folk Horizon award recently under his belt, Blair is currently riding the crest of acclaim as he attempts to step out of the shadows of his family upbringing (son of the legendary UK folk star Ashley Hutchings). He opened with a song called ‘Christopher Marlowe’, a tale about the Elizabethan playwright and very much in line with Blair’s theatrical flair. His latest album was represented by amongst others ‘Threads’ and the title track ‘Blight and Blossom’. The latter is due to be released as a new single and its live rendition concluded the set with the girls backing the track on dobra and mandolin. Perhaps the stand out performance of his set was the version of traditional song ‘Black is the Colour’ which Blair arranged with Larkin Poe’s Rebecca Lovell as a submission for his subsequent award. Blair Dunlop oozes with flair and confidence, is seemingly in control of his destiny and is set to entertain the folk world for a very long time with his guitar, vocal and storytelling skills.

To generate their transatlantic sound, Charlotte Carrivick has mastered the banjo and mandolin while sister, Laura delivers dobra and fiddle. Both siblings interchange their specialist instruments with acoustic guitar and are equally adept at supplying vocals either independently or in harmony. Their vocal style and song subject is very much rooted in English song tradition but it’s the old time Americana sound that catches the ear.

The set the sisters delivered was not based around any one separate release but was an effective mix of self penned tunes and influential covers. The latter included an opening version of James Taylor’s ‘Sweet Baby Jane’, a nod to acclaimed bluegrass artist Tony Rice with ‘Church St Blues’ and an encore offering of the Nanci Griffith song ‘Gulf Coast Highway’. These tracks further highlighted the Sisters American roots influences and were expertly executed.

In line with their South Devon upbringing, the girls, in true Seth Lakeman style, recounted a real life coastal tragedy in ‘Lifeboat’. Further song inspirations included an inhabitant of the pub in ‘Man in the Corner’, a trip to Austria with ‘Outside Time’ and the contents of Laura’s specific world map in ‘If You Asked Me’. All songs were enhanced by the brickwork surroundings of the Kitchen Garden Café, an intimate nirvana for many acoustic acts. The set was also interspersed with a number of fine instrumentals including a civil war influenced tune ‘Ashokan Farewell’  which as well as ending the evening saw Blair extend his many talents to dobra.

So the mission to explore the work of The Carrivick Sisters was temporarily complete. The promise they displayed at that distant festival was fulfilled and their talents will surely entertain audiences for many years to come. The future of UK folk with an Americana twist is in safe hands.

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