Sunday 16 February 2014


Live Review

Newhampton Arts Centre, Wolverhampton

Unfortunately it wasn't the best turn out at the Newhampton Arts Centre to see two fine performances, one of which was a local lad who is really starting to make ripples on the local folk/acoustic scene.

Tom McConville
It's sad really because the centre in Dunkley Street, Whitmore Reans, Wolverhampton is a real resource that is not only under threat but is underused and should be a jewel in the city's crown.
What the impressive venue does is bring wonderful acts such as the incredible fiddle player Tom McConville accompanied by Perthshire's Andy Watt right to your doorstep.
McConville, who looks a little like Victor Meldrew with a fiddle, produces some really gorgeous sounds with his instrument with such ease and  fluidity it almost as if the strings and wood are part of his DNA.
He opened with a song from fellow Northerner and former Lindisfarne man,  Billy Mitchell. With Home Where Me Heart Lives, he got the audience involved straight away with the refrain.
Right from the start you can see McConville's expertise on the fiddle, his movements up and down the positions as he plays are hypnotic and his finger play mirrors the flow and smoothness of the execution of Tai Chi. All this goes to produce a gorgeous and rich sound as he sang the soft folk ballad which had gentle Celtic undertones.
After a little self deprecating banter and some gentle goading of the audience he moved into an Irish country sound. Starting slowly and then adding layers such as a jazzy feel before, with relaxed precision, speeding up to give it a full-bodied reel sound.
For his next song One Last Smile by Alan Taylor McConville showed more of his voice which isn't the strongest or most tuneful but it is honest and organic and suits the style of folk and music he plays perfectly. This was another soft ballad which was made all the more enjoyable by being nicely supported by Watt's guitar and McConville's sparing use of his fiddle where is was a case of less is more.
His rendition of Mrs Elspeth Hardie from Ian Hardie had a gorgeous opening and he produced a beautiful slow air on the fiddle.
This was followed by Listen To The Wind which was a jauntier song with comic undertones, a toetapper with a strand of bluegrass and jazz woven into it by McConville's expert fingers.
With the Knife Grinder he moved more firmly into the jazz camp with his playing and it was held up wonderfully by some great inserts from Watt. As a contrast he moved smoothly into some Scottish jigs first with the sound of Orkney and again he added his improvised jazz inserts and incidentals, his hand gliding up and down the neck of his fiddle from third to first position with the smoothest of manoeuvres which then seamlessly moved into the second piece which gave him a chance to pull out some fantastic mini-duets with Watt.
Tom with Andy Watt
He went back to the traditional with Where The Blarney Roses Grow. In terms of the singing there are much better versions around but what made it was his improvising with other musical genres throwing in a hoe-down-style and more jazz sounds to add some colour to both his and Watt's guitar playing.
McConville came through then with a couple of storytelling songs with strong narratives, one about love during war which was a country blues song that had a definite bluegrass feel to it and even evoked a passing nod to the late great Lonnie Donegan.
There was a chance for Watt to shine with another narrative driven song in Slip, Jigs and Reels where his precise guitar picking came to the fore and which was followed by McConville's version of When The Boat Comes In. It was given a bluegrass sound and he had tampered with the traditional chorus which caught a few of the audience on the hop.
McConville wound down the set with Aragon Mill and another Orkney song When I'm Gone which was a beautiful slow air.
The Newcastle Fiddler is among the most respected and influential players of his and other generations and when you watch him make the most complex of musical practises look as simple as clicking your fingers you understand why, and realise he is fully deserving of the accolades poured on him.
Importantly it's local and friendly venues like the arts centre which are providing arenas for wonderful musicians such as McConville as well as up and coming artists such as the support Daniel Kirk and if we lose them then that would be a great tragedy for folk music and for the musical traditions of this nation as a whole.

Daniel Kirk

In contrast to McConville who has decades of experience under his belt Daniel Kirk is at the opening of his musical career and with his talent it IS going to be a career.
Daniel Kirk
His distinctive voice is easy on the ear and able to convey emotion wonderfully while still keeping an undertone of vulnerability. Kirk already has an impressive album under his belt, Navigation, which doesn't have a weak track on it. His voice has elements of Labi Siffre with just the occasional smidgen of Bruce Springsteen when he lets it off the leash.
He incorporates Americana into his playlists very smoothly with songs such as Alabama Pine. Kirk was back for at the arts centre for the second time in a month after making a big impression at the Folk Lounge which was put together by fellow local musician and friend Faye Brookes.
Kirk's "real" voice shone through with All I Want, a track from his album, which was a soft ballad that had a strong underbeat created by his guitar.
He produced another soft ballad from the album 3am which was accented by his precise string picking which he followed with his version of the incredible Richard Thompson song Beeswing. Kirk's version is slightly more upbeat than the original but it works well and he sang it at the Lounge show too, although this time he seemed less relaxed for some reason but it again was another chance to showcase his impressive guitar playing.
His  version of Bob Dylan's The House Carpenter opens with a blues-style holler and Kirk should consider at some stage singing this a cappella because his voice is good and strong enough to carry it.
Kirk looks and sounds every bit the professional and he's definitely going to find his own place on the folk/acoustic scene and moreso his days as a support act are numbered, thankfully.

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