For an evening of therapeutic folk music, tapping into the gorgeous tones of Kitty Macfarlane is the place to be. The only trappings required are a beautiful voice, delicate guitar playing and a well-equipped songbook. The inaugural album from this West Country performer may yet still need some extra impetus to see the light of day, but the solo delivered ninety-minute live performance is well on the way to be sealed. This date at the Kitchen Garden was Kitty’s Birmingham debut show, which closely followed one a couple of months ago at the nearby town of Bromsgrove. Indeed, it was a support slot at the Artrix there in 2016 that first alerted me to this talented artist and a keen eye subsequently kept on her career since.
If Devon is the domain of the Lakemans and Dorset of Ninebarrow, then the folk tales of Somerset are going to be safe in the hands of Kitty MacFarlane as she develops her fledgling career. Admittedly, she is now located in Bristol following a university stint in Warwick, but being born and bred in the county has fired her up to continue to explore its heritage through song.
Presently, Kitty’s repertoire represents a tidy balance between the original, borrowed and interpreted song. This is after all folk music, where the baton of tradition passes through a variety of song mediums. Five of the songs featured in this evening’s show originated from a 2016 EP, which provided Kitty a lift up into the recording world.
These included ‘Wrecking Days’ and ‘Bus Stop’, which heralded the closing of the first set and the opening of the second in the running order of the show. Earlier, Kitty had elaborated on the song ‘Lamb’ from this recording with its inclusion of Hinkley Point nuclear power station as forming part of the vista of the North Somerset coastline. To provide a wrap on the EP, the evening ended with the title track ‘Tide & Time’ and a cover version of Tim Buckley’s ‘Song to the Siren’. The latter really caught the ear when first seeing Kitty support Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman at that Bromsgrove gig, and it sounded just as sweet in the encore spot this evening.
Possibly the sweetest moment of the show was a stunning a Capella delivery of ‘Starling’ in the latter stages of the second set. This song is based on the amazing visual experience of witnessing the starling murmuration and presented an opportunity to slip into a relaxed listening zone. Sometimes after a long day at work, a soothing song performance can work wonders. Kitty actually began the evening in a similar unaccompanied mode with a version of the traditional song ‘Morgan’s Pantry’. Immediately after finishing the number, she explained its meaning of referring to Bristol Channel’s very own mermaid mythology. A continuation of Somerset folklore rolled over into the myth of ‘Avona’, a doomed love story given eternal status via some of the area’s most prominent landmarks.
This set the tone of the evening, which saw Kitty perfecting the art of the inter-song chat and informative musings. An eloquent and assured manner helped considerably, alongside affectionate warmth to ease the audience into her fold. Perhaps the chat peaked with the wonderfully portrayed passion for eel conservation. Kitty skilfully weaved the concept of freedom of movement into ‘The Glass Eel’ with more than a concealed nod to a political persuasion.
Alongside the Tim Buckley piece, a couple songs from David Francey and Anne Briggs had an airing. The former’s ‘Saints and Sinners’ soared as the gig’s prime audience participation moment, especially useful having an easily accessible and memorable chorus. ‘Go Your Way’ was the other borrowed song. Other compositions resonating during the gig included the autobiographical ‘17’, an adaption from a William Blake poem ‘Man, Friendship’ and the sentimentally reassuring ‘Dawn and Dark’.
As impressive as Kitty’s development is proving, there is room for a little variation in the guitar-strummed pieces and maybe a killer chorus/melody in an original number will provide a hook to propel her career forward onto a higher plateau. However, time is on her side and a considerable asset base is already gaining the attention of many acute observers on the English folk scene.
Alongside artists such as Kirsty Merryn, Kelly Oliver, Emily Mae Winters and Kim Lowings to name just four, Kitty Macfarlane is at the heart of the wealth of young singer-songwriter/interpreter talent on the English folk scene. Throw in the Scottish talents of Iona Fife and Siobhan Miller and the list starts getting endless. Venues like the Kitchen Garden give them an ideal listening environment and the opportunity to sharpen their craft. Kitty grasped this chance and left those making it their evening of choice fully satisfied and suitably impressed.