Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Meet The Folkers

Flaxenby/Whalebone, Cinnamon Coffee and Meeting House, Bridgnorth, Shropshire, Tuesday April 22 2008, 8.15pm.

As the vast majority of our gig-going exploits centre around Birmingham and Wolverhampton, it's perhaps high time we sampled some live entertainment from our home county of Shropshire. So went with the singer-songwriter Matthew Hill to check out Flaxenby and Whalebone at Bridgnorth's Cinnamon Coffee and Meeting House. First time at the venue, which surprised us by being exactly what it sounds like, that is a cafe rather than a bar as such (although they serve wine and bottled beers/ciders alongside their trademark spiced coffees) and with the bands playing in front of a seated area not unlike a miniature village hall.

It provided a hushed, civilised vibe that might be more intimidating in its own way to a nervous performer than a crowded bar area where not everyone's attention is focused purely on the band. Luckily Whalebone are regulars here, and have the relaxed air of three people who've just decided to do some impromptu entertainment in their own front room, with frontman Steve never short of an anecdote or quip between numbers. They comprise two guitarists and a fiddle player, and play exclusively instrumentals, a remit that might sound limiting on paper but they do well to expand it into interesting directions, with at least one song entering into post-rock territory and an intriguing cover of 'Hotel California'.

Should declare some sort of interest with regards to the second act Flaxenby, as your curious correspondent knows one of the singers, Sam McLeod, from schooldays and beyond, although this is the first time we've clapped eyes on each other for more years than one suspects either of us would like captured on record. Luckily, Sam manages to recover her composure from the trauma of her past catching up with her in the boggle-eyed form of your bashful blogger, and the last-minute arrival of fiddle player Andy Jones, to deliver a fine show with her band. It's mainstream folk music all right, but played by people you feel have more than a passing knowledge of other genres, and infused with sufficient melancholy to encroach into the blues.

Anyone with an interest in atmospheric folk ballads and/or a taste for male/female vocal interplay would do well to invest in the current Flaxenby CD 'Brand New', which features some memorable tunes (including the title track, 'This Feeling', 'Don't Look Down' and 'The One') and some great singing (Sam has a genuinely beautiful voice while co-singer Chris Buttery supplies earthier, wearier but no less mellifluous tones). Sipping cappuccinos while listening to acoustic folk may have made a change from our usual rock'n'roll antics, but the civilising atmosphere and haunting melodies made for a relaxing and intriguing evening's entertainment, supplying plentiful evidence of cultural life flourishing in the Shropshire countryside.

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