There are several elements which need to come together to make a great and memorable gig; the quality of the musicians, the set list they select , the venue and the audience all contribute . Last October at the Derby Folk Festival in the cathedral, this Folk Award winning duo were the stand out performance of the weekend, so I was intrigued to see if their own brand of “....lugubrious bastards out in full lilting lachrymosity” (to quote from their own social media) would translate to a different venue . The Musician is located at the end of a street in one of the less glamorous parts of Leicester, the venue regularly puts on a great selection of live music in a single room with a low ceiling and couldn't provide a greater contrast to Derby Cathedral. Any doubts I had that Clarke & Walker wouldn't work as well here were quickly trashed.
After taking their allotted stage places, Ben seated and Josienne standing, Josienne starts with a perfect antidote to the often used “Let's Rock!”opening of some bands and a reminder of their “misery wagon ... spreading the melancholy” (see above), “Let's get miserable”. Opening with the bluesy 'The Birds' from her first album, followed by “.. and now another banging, dance floor filler” which is the beautiful 'Something Familiar' from most recent album 'Overnight', as is Gillian Welch's 'Dark Turn of Mind', which Josienne feels describes her and jokingly that on the writing of the song “..Gillian wrote it first, well I feel I would eventually have ...”.
“So we just lost a folk award”... referring to their best duo Folk Award nomination (winners 2015, nominees 2016) they play their cover of the traditional “The Banks of Sweet Primroses” as performed at the 2015 awards show.
There are a few new songs tonight, 'Seedlings All' is written about humans being the most overproduced organism on the planet and has a lovely waltz-time guitar part, another track possibly called 'Chicago' is the occasion on a US tour when they arrived at a show in that city to an audience of zero, as a reminder not to become a diva. Then in a shock move that may “.....put the final nail into our folk coffin...” they have two tracks featuring a drum machine (please no fainting now), one of which is a cover of Dolly Parton's 'Little Sparrow'... after which Josienne says “maybe we've had a couple of walk-outs, it's too dark to tell”.
The Musician is in its 'Folk club' set up tonight, chairs grouped around small round tables with a candle on each one, familiar to those who have seen the Coen Brothers 'Inside Llewyn Davis' based in 1960's Greenwich Village folk clubs, recalling this period they play covers of 'Reynardine' and 'Fotheringay' both well know from the 1960's version of Fairport Convention.
Josienne's self-deprecating sense of dark humour continues with her review of their version of Nick Drakes' 'Time Has Told Me', “...beautiful but rather pointless, much like the band playing as the Titanic sank.”. And of her own songwriting style “ I keep trying to write a euphoric, anthemic number but they eventually descend into melancholy” before playing 'Silverline' which features the line “And somehow my view is always imbued with melancholy hues” just to prove the point.
Those of you who are already aware of this duo will know that Josienne's stunning, melancholic (yes, that word again) vocals and Ben's beautiful guitar playing, which is subtle and supportive of Josienne's vocals when it needs to be and is also strong enough to drive the tracks in a variety of different styles when required, together make a perfect combination. Maybe you cannot dance to these “lugubrious bastards”, but you cannot fail to be totally engrossed by their beautiful, mesmerising performance.