Saturday, 17 November 2012

Josienne Clarke

One Light Is Gone
(Hatfish, released November 2010)

Josienne Clarke is an emerging talent on the London folk scene. Although she took classical singing lessons as a teenager, hers is a voice free of contrivance, husky in its upper register, well suited to the singer-songwriter terrain she now occupies.

On this, her debut album, she’s accompanied by Ben Walker, a guitarist with a technique to die for. He studied classical guitar before moving to folk fingerstyle in the manner of Jansch or Renbourn. As well as doubling on mandolin, he supplies discreet string arrangements on several tracks.

Sometimes – ‘Midnight Moon’ is an example – Clarke can sound like the omnipresent Laura Marling, but in general her sympathies, and her careful diction, are closer to the 60s and 70s sirens she admires. I hear Linda Thompson; I hear Shelagh McDonald. 

She has trad songs in her repertoire, but this debut album is all her own compositions. The title track is a wistful ballad vaguely reminiscent of the Thompsons’ ‘Dimming Of The Day’. ‘Done’ circles round unassuming guitar arpeggios. In contrast, ‘All My Truth’ is jaunty and bluegrassy, evidence that Clarke is no one-trick pony.

I know her to be an engaging live performer. This album can only win her new friends. 

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Emily Portman

The Slaughtered Lamb, London, 18 July 2012

When I interviewed the mighty June Tabor last year, I sneaked in a question at the end about the current folk scene. Anyone she had her eye on? Yes, she said, after a pause: Emily Portman, an artist she admires for “making new songs of old and working folktale and storytelling into songs”. It’s hard to better that as a summation of Emily’s striking gifts, on evidence again as she launched her second album, Hatchling, in the basement of a London pub.

Since her fiercely original debut with The Glamoury in 2010, Emily has had a “hatchling” of her own. The new baby was in safe hands “over the road”, she assured us, but still much on her mind. Taking to the stage with her quartet of multi-instrumentalists, she interspersed new songs with lullabies. The maternity leave has been well-spent, evidently, giving her time to widen her reading in fairytale and legend. ‘Hinge Of The Year’ is a joyous riff on an Angela Carter character, while ‘Scorching Sun’ draws inspiration from the writings of Marina Warner. ‘Sunken Bells’ gave rise to some girly banter with violinist and cellist. Was it about Narnia? Was it about the submerged village of the Lake District? Not much doubt about the backstory of ‘Old Mother Eve’, the one traditional number on the new album, where Emily made space for a jolly audience singalong on the chorus. She’s recently taken up banjo; while her vocal style remains rootedly English (and long may it continue so), the new instrumentation added a distinctive Appalachian feel to the title track, a reworking of the myth of Leda and the swan. 

“It’s great to be out again!” she giggled, relishing the intimacy of the club environment, as she slipped into an old favourite, ‘Stick Stock’. The audience couldn’t agree more. 

First published in R2 (Rock’n’Reel)