The folk world thrives on the sort of musical partnerships and band formations that are perhaps far more promiscuous than in the rock world. Part of this is down to simple economics. Folk gigs rarely command the sort of fees that are ever going to allow an artist to tour for a couple of months then spend the rest of the year snorting cocaine at some sun-kissed poolside in LA (even if they wanted to). So it is not at all uncommon for folk artists, even as part of a really well-established project, to work in different permutations with different sets of musicians throughout the year. But much of it, I suspect, is also down to a simple and addictive love of playing and singing. Both of tonight’s performers have made a real impact in recent years in well-established duos, Greg Russell with Ciaran Algar and Rex Preston with Miranda Sykes. However, explains Greg, with himself and Rex both living fairly close to one another in Devon they soon evolved from drinking buddies to playing together purely for fun – and now to touring together. Tonight at Green Note it is only their second show together but an absolute treat.
Audiences familiar with Greg and Ciaran would recognise the magnificent “Davy” from The Queen’s Lover album. But beyond that it’s a completely different set of tunes and songs: a nice mix of self-written compositions, covers and traditional material. As well as impressively beautiful mandolin-playing throughout the evening, Rex sings a couple of songs, too. And while Greg’s musical background is steeped in folk from a young age, Rex’s influences are far more diverse, and the mix of sounds and styles from the two make for a great combination.
Whilst the irreverent banter between Greg and Ciaran is always hilarious and always an essential and welcome part of their live show, in a different format like tonight we perhaps get to hear a little more about what makes Greg tick musically. He tells us he could just about cope if he was never able to play guitar again but couldn’t imagine what he would do if he was never able to sing again. And what a singing voice it is. If you listen to the lead vocals of a young Simon Nicol on the early post-Sandy Denny Fairport albums, for example, his delivery sounds somewhat hesitant compared to the magnificent gem it would become later in his career. With Greg Russell, it’s a completely different kettle of fish altogether. There is character and richness and depth to his voice, such that would take many of even the greatest singers years and years to develop. So let’s put aside the qualified labels like “rising star” and “enormous promise” – I’m going to nail my colours to the mast and call it for Greg Russell as the country’s finest folk singer of his generation.
I look forward to seeing both Greg and Rex back in their more usual partnerships in the not too distant future. But tonight has been a fruitful and enjoyable product of the folk scene’s continuing musical promiscuity.
A Close Shave
Old Mans Retreat
Wily Ole Lad
Did You Like The Battle Sir?
Brisk Young Man into Good Natured Man
Sandy River into What You Do with What You’ve Got
Rolling Down The Ryburn
Previous review: Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar at Green Note