In subterranean rooms below the main space of Camden’s Cecil Sharp House is a sort of social club suspended in amber, haunted by spectres of scone baking and domino playing. There are pick axes mounted on the walls and an Irish dance class in the adjoining space. The band playing this curious venue are last year’s Glastonbury Emerging Talent winners, four lasses from Newcastle and its environs. “We’re northern,” they dryly state during their introduction, “but we come in peace.”
Opener ‘We Talked Again’ showcases front-woman Bridie’s plaintive voice accompanied by bell plates – something akin to trowels with beaters attached. These most prosaic of instruments, when combined with magical madrigal-like four-part harmonies, prove transportive. The band’s latest single ‘Prolong’ shimmers, over a slapped Cajon box rhythm, a mournful cello and plucked guitar. It recalls the jazz-folk melding of Nick Drake and John Martyn at their most warmly mournful.
Changing pace and genre, the rousing Appalachian-like gospel of ‘Diminutive Man’, with its furious fiddle and infectious clapping, is face-flushingly visceral. The first of the evening’s covers, a sensitive, skeletal rendering of Pink Floyd’s ‘Fearless’, is made entirely their own. The traditionally arranged ‘Sandgate Dandling Song’, pulled from a Northumbrian musical archive, is beauteously maudlin, a sullen and keening lament lifted by ribbons of violin. Bowing the bell plates on ‘Crying Beast’ produces an ethereally paranormal sound, its fragility followed by a livid chorus worthy of Laura Marling or a less mannered Joanna Newsom.
There’s a refreshingly lustrous gallows humour to these girls: a song proffered as “perfect for Valentines” is about dying the night before your wedding. ‘All You Love Is All You Are’, their touching last number, feels like falling slowly backwards into a bed of moss. An incongruous upbeat cover of Justin Timberlake’s ‘Cry Me A River’ serves as an encore, which although clearly played for fun is melodically elegant.
A small hall in Camden has been transformed tonight into a beguiling Brontean landscape, of willow bark and witches’ pools – Bridie and her Arbour are a midnight dark yet airily bright breath of fresh folkish air.
- - -
Words: Anna Wilson