When I arrived at the Little Festival this evening, Lizzie Wilson – a young country singer/songwriter originally from Essex, currently studying in York – was already on stage, but I think I only missed one song. My impression was more of country-pop than out and out country, a kind of one-girl Lady Antebellum, although with a slight vocal hint of Avril Lavigne in one song towards the end of her set. Clear-voiced and singing with a smile, she painted pictures with words and told stories with her lyrics. A cover of The Lumineers’ Ho Hey was one of the few songs I heard her introduce and, as far as I could make out, the rest of her eleven-song set were her own songs. Lizzie seemed to increase with confidence and her vocals got increasingly impressive as the set went on and my favourite song was, in fact, her last one – Blown Away – which was an impressive set-ender.
A problem I have with reviewing some acts is a lack of reference points in regards to them and lack knowledge of what they do. Thankfully, Moira Clarke from Over The Yardarm, an instrumental folk band who play traditional tunes, took time to introduce all their tracks, meaning that there was little chance that I would get my reels, jigs and double hornpipes confused. Using, at various times, guitar, mandolin, banjo, melodeon, concertina and more recorders than I have seen since my schooldays, they performed a mixture of Irish, English and French music, dating as far back as the 18th century. At one point during the first number, it sounded as though Moira was doing something incredibly clever with a recorder, until a distant ambulance, siren wailing, hoved into view. Early in the set she was called upon to play a melodeon solo – Irish tune Tripping Up The Stairs, while guitarist Steve replaced a broken string. Later she was allowed to take a breather while Steve and Paul performed Kempshott Hunt. Most of the tunes were light and lively, foot-tapping stuff that in other venues or events would probably have had people up and dancing. The tracks played included Nancy, written by a Northumbrian shepherd about his wife or, possibly, his favourite sheep, Downfall Of The Gin, probably referencing the time when gin-sellers were first licensed, Lemmy Brazil’s No 2, a step-dancing tune and Gravel Walk, an Irish reel. An interesting and entertaining set that saw my appreciation of folk music go up yet another notch.
Every so often I come across a band that are so quirky and just that little bit different from pretty much everything else that I can’t help but like them. There were indications that this was going to happen again tonight even before Vesper Walk had played a note. Unusual make-up and clothes (including odd leggings) and a slightly disconnected air when addressing the audience made the girls immediately stand out. Their first song had me hooked. Auntie Sarah opened with Catherine Cowan and Lisa-Marie Baker reciting a Glaswegian nursery rhyme, along with playground clapping, before launching into somewhat dark piano work and lyrics which portrayed near-macabre imagery . The two sisters perform intricate four-hand piano pieces, with Lucy Charock’s cello adding an extra dimension. Hands danced across the keys during, and the sisters swapped places between, songs. Their vocals mixed classical influences with the eccentricity of Kate Bush or Tori Amos and they give an impression of the sort of “dark cabaret” engendered by The Dresden Dolls and, sadly, the apparently defunct York band What The Cat Dragged In (the last band whose quirkiness made me stand up and take note). Covers from Fall Out Boy and Orla Gartland sat comfortably in a set mainly made up of original material – the lighter (dare I say haunting?) Ghost, with its string-puppet appearance, Monster, which mixed staccato with soaring and Fallen Angel which, like much of the set, combined lightness and dark brilliantly, were stand-outs in an incredibly impressive set. The music was superb, the dual, harmonised vocals lovely and the whole thing added up to a band I will be looking out for again.
Pelico were the only act on tonight’s bill that I have seen before. There’s something about them that invokes a kind of musical nostalgia –whether it is Tom Taylor’s trumpet or accordion parts, or the four part vocals that, as one of my gig-buddies pointed out, is reminiscent of sixties pop-bands, I’m not sure, but they manage to successfully combine something sort of old-fashioned with modern sensibilities and a kind of Yorkshire exuberance that leaves them just a few steps below Hope&Social in entertainment stakes, musically at least. Tonight they combined familiar songs from their first album, such as Falling Apart, Who You Are, Sleeping On The Floor and Passing Places, with new songs from their second – Even Though, with it’s jangly guitar and strong vocals, the tear-jerker Cold Trees and Keep On Running – and the only cover they perform, Elbow’s One Day Like This. As the set went on, there was a touch of sharp humour and a small amount of banter with the event staff, always nice to see.. Energetically supported by various family members, the mood seemed to spread through the crowd and, while few beyond the families were up and dancing during the encore of This Loving Is Easy, many had called for more.