Thursday, 29 March 2018

GIG REVIEW: Kim Lowings and the Greenwood - Red Lion Folk Club, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Wednesday 28th March 2018

It has just been over five years since Kim Lowings and the Greenwood first crossed my path with the realisation that sometimes you do not have to venture too far from your home to discover great new acts. The added bonus has been to see them blossom across many shows over the ensuing period and widen their repertoire considerably. From that first night at Katie Fitzgerald’s in Stourbridge, another eight venues across the West Midlands join the list, ranging from the quirky surroundings of Scary Canary to the lavish setting of Moseley Park, home of the annual big name folk festival. Each occasion (and there has been multiple ones at some of the venues) brings out the best in Kim and her band, with the Red Lion Folk Club in Birmingham ensuring this upward trajectory is maintained.

While this was not their first appearance at the venue, it was good to catch them in a different setting, although their music usually commands an attentive listening audience wherever played. Across the two sets, the songs blew a breadth of fresh air as the new album beds in alongside established favourites. Of course, time waits for no decent act and the future is already in motion with new material. From memory, a quartet of songs had their first airing in my presence this evening. A traditional Canadian folk number titled ‘Jones Boys’ was introduced as a step into the future, with Kim continuing to scroll the archives to supplement her own writing.

This quartet began right at the start of the set with an instrument-free version of the Dick Gaughin passionate ballad ‘Workers’ Song’, before Kim eased into her musical role of dulcimer, and this evening a rare foray into some acoustic guitar work. Sadly, there was no piano available to deliver the stunning twin peaks of the WILD AND WICKED YOUTH album, but the well of material is still considerably stocked. Another song not heard before was ‘Beggar Man’, which Kim has included on a new covers release as part of the Pledge process for the album. Stocks are limited, but check out the Bandcamp download link below, and amongst other tracks selected by her valued sponsors is the gorgeously sung ‘The Littlest Birds’. This is a long term live favourite and a rendition that stands proudly alongside the Be Good Tanyas original.

The final song not heard before was a cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Carey’. While she has previously covered the great lady at gigs I attended, I am quite sure it was not this classic. Anyhow, somebody requested it this evening; Kim decided to go off piste and did a grand job.

Of course, there was plenty of familiar Greenwood material to savour as well. Originals like ‘Stay’, ‘Lullaby’ and ‘Maggie’s Song’ continue to shape up admirably against borrowed pieces like ‘Away Ye Merry Lasses’ and arrangements of traditional numbers such as ‘Bold Riley’ and ‘Oh the Wind and Rain’. We even had a version of the old standard ‘Shady Grove’ this evening, with Kim admitting it had been a long time since featuring in a set. On similar lines, I cannot recall hearing the stirring Scottish song ‘Annie Laurie’ too frequently recently, but there was no harm in it returning to the fold tonight. This song always brings back memories of the superb video that accompanied it a few years back.

It was interesting to note that the show did not feature the usual closer ‘The Begging Song’. While a folk staple, its connotation has perhaps been slightly impeded by the proliferation of homeless people in towns across the land.

While the sound of Kim and her usual backing trio was adorable all evening, the choice of the organisers to enlist the services of Paul O’Neill to open proceedings gave the event an extra sparkle. A stalwart of the Celtic folk scene as front person for the Roving Crows, the solo work of this exiled Irishman (I know he is not alone) is less familiar. However, more of the fare served up in this near fifty-minute opening slot will knock down a few doors. Songs and stories entwined as the quintessential troubadour set about turning observations into catchy songs, ripe to engage with a receptive audience. There were similarities in a blend between Steve Knightley and Paul Brady, alongside an inching towards the country side of folk. Subjects such as family, God, fun in Barcelona and casual acquaintances all got the song writing spin and if you had not come across the work of Paul O’Neill before, there was ample on show to check him out. Although this will become easier when he keeps the promise of recording some of these songs

The recorded format has been kind to Kim Lowings and the Greenwood. The three studio albums plus an EP and now this covers release will keep grounded fans happy, while there is always a fine show around the corner for those willing to branch out and engage with live music. Hopefully, the tenth different venue to host a gig in terms of this blog's reviews will surface before the year is out. The chances of at least equalling this night are guaranteed, with the added anticipation that things are likely to get better.

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