The concept of duality switched from the art world to its distant creative cousin of folk and acoustic music as the Big Comfy Bookshop set about curating the latest Friday evening presentation. The city of Coventry provided a centrally located platform for two artists to share their contrasting perspectives, while colluding in the ultimate union of excellence. Heading south from Humberside was evocative singer-songwriter Katie Spencer, symbolising Hull’s second gift to Coventry in the last couple of months in addition to passing the City of Culture baton. Meeting Katie on neutral ground was London-based folk artist Kirsty Merryn expressing a versatile approach to the medium of traditional English music.
Both artists are active movers on the upward trajectory of the career curve and ably represented by well-received CD releases last year, successful in reaching out to new listeners. They mirror the vibrancy of an independent scene that seeks ways to be forever innovative, and possess an acute talent to maintain a steep ascendancy. Their hour-long sets this evening created many post-gig talking points, with perhaps a spread to unite fans drifting into the scene from different angles, influences and preferences.
Kirsty utilises piano as her instrument of choice and fires up a set of pristine vocal chords to spearhead a raft of traditionally leaning songs. There are archetypal facets to her stage presentation and a high degree of self-assurance to project a performer at ease with the direction of her music. This confidence extended to delivering the opening and closing songs of the set in unaccompanied mode. ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ and ‘The Birds are Drunk’ are both found on the SHE & I album; a record rich in original song writing as Kirsty set about telling the stories of historical female heroines. Like all good singer-songwriter nights, the informative segments painted an extended picture of the songs.
While Katie also bared her own thoughts, influences and drivers, she plies an alternative route to song delivery, showing deft skills on the acoustic guitar and a vocal style blending into the mood of her songs. Katie revealed more about her roots in songs such as ‘East Coast Railroad’; random observant musings in ‘Too High Alone’ and legendary musicians who have struck a chord in covers of John Martyn’s ‘Hurt in Your Heart’ and Jackson C. Frank’s ‘Blues Run the Game’. The word ‘folk’ is far too constraining to define her music and a broad appeal crossing many virtual boundaries exists, albeit with a slightly left field alternative streak.
Katie only treated folks to a single tune off her GOOD MORNING SKY EP, although it was a good one in ‘Can’t Resist the Road’. The wealth of original unrecorded material played suggests a full length and highly recommended release can't be too far into the future. In contrast, Kirsty was more forthright in sharing her recorded material with ‘The Fair Tea-Maker of Edgware Row’ (referring to the infamous Lady Emma Hamilton) and ‘Forfarshire’ (commemorating the heroic Grace Darling)’ joining further tracks in ‘Queen of the Mist’ and ‘An Evening at Home in Spiritual Séance’ (featuring the archangel Gabriel) from the album. Older songs from a previous record were played in the guise of ‘Winter in Ontario’ and ‘Constantine’, alongside an unrecorded number titled ‘The Wake’, which can be accessed via an online video.
There was an obvious positioning difference between the two artists in terms of stature. Kirsty’s extended experience led to a fair amount of reflection, especially sharing anecdotes from her recent cathedral tour opening for Show of Hands. With this in mind, the future was barely touched , although a new song was introduced in ‘The Deep Wild Torrent’ and dipping into traditional song via a version of ‘The Outlandish Knight’ may suggest an exploratory move in this direction for upcoming projects. However, the future must surely be on the original front with so much song writing talent at her disposal. For Katie, the set was really all about the future; indeed a very bright one for someone just turned twenty-one. From recollection, songs such as ‘Hello Sun’, 'Drinking the Same Water', ‘You Came Like a Hurricane’ and ‘Spencer the Rover’ resonated from first listen and could be the cornerstones of a forthcoming release.
There may have been those in attendance with different preferences along the lengthy folk and acoustic spectrum, but the option to savour the delights of both Kirsty Merryn and Katie Spencer was likely to be the most popular choice this evening. Nestling among the explicit contrasts was an implicit synergy that ultimately united dedicated followers of independent roots music. Directions may branch out, but memories of the roots entwining during one evening at the Big Comfy Bookshop are planted firmly.