Winners of the 2013 BBC Young Folk Award, Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar were well received by the large crowd when I saw them at Cropredy last summer and picked up another BBC folk award this year. Their debut album, The Queen’s Lover, came out two years ago and this has recently been followed up with their second, The Call, which has been getting rave reviews. Tonight, they are performing at the Green Note, a venue no bigger than the average trendy north -London bistro which is pretty much what it is except that they’ve also built up a reputation for hosting some top folk acts. The gig is a sell-out with a 60/70-strong crowd.
They are both incredibly talented musicians. Witty and relaxed on stage, their banter suggests that in a different era they could have been some cheesy 70s TV double act with Russell, the thoughtful, sensitive straight man and Algar, his brash, down-to-earth side-kick. However, musically they are a perfect match. Russell’s beautifully expressive voice and lovely guitar is complemented by Algar’s brilliant fiddle playing, though, as they demonstrate throughout the evening, both are talented multi-instrumentalists.
Exceptional musical talent only makes for an exceptionally entertaining evening, however, with a good choice of tunes and songs but, again, they excel. “The Queen’s Lover”, title track of their debut CD, is a song set in the Tudor court that Russell wrote when he was just 17 while revising for his history A Level. “Davy”, Russell tells us, is a song he originally learnt from his father when he was very young, but while at university he sought out the original songwriter’s blessing to change the words and re-interpret it – which he was happy to give. We also get to hear a good selection of material from their brand new CD, The Call. “Away from the Pits”, Algar’s reflection of life and love in his home town of Stoke-on-Trent, is one of those and, again, beautifully played and sung. In what they call their “rock ‘n’ roll moment” both leave the stage for a completely unamplified version of “The Call and Answer” in the middle of the packed room. A great moment in the evening.
They encore with their version of “The New Railroad”, a traditional bluegrass song they have put their own unique stamp on and a perfect finish.
“Hope you like us!” they wrote on my CD when I queued up to buy a copy from them. Yes. I do!