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October 24, 2005

Alasdair Roberts at the Luminere

Nineweaving has been collecting versions of Child Ballads and putting them on her iPod. I have many, where many is more than 100 and fewer than Nineweaving. And as ever, we've been going to see live music, and, now that Nineweaving has mentioned it, we find that the people we're hearing also have a few. A good place to start is The Child Ballads Project, who list a great many recorded versions. Though not, as will become clear, all of them. I'll have to break this into parts, as I've been living instead of blogging recently.

So, what music have we heard? Last night we went to a venue new to us, The Luminaire in Kilburn High Road. They have a web page saying "Let's get the preconceptions out of the way. Kilburn's miles away, isn't it? [Sigh] No."

Kilburn is, absolutely, miles away. Getting there was easy; getting home was impossible, stuck as we were in a weird Walthamstovian Sunday night transport gap, between 11:30 when the tube stops, and 1am, when the fast, regular, London-spanning night buses start. We took a variety of buses small distances until finally, at Angel, sense prevailed and we grabbed a cab. Which we should have done in the first place.

The Luminaire is one of these yummy clubs that, as far as we can tell, simply didn't exist when we were of an ordinary clubbing age. Young professional people sit around and chat and drink beer and listen to pleasant live music. Including, in this case, Alasdair Roberts, who I've mentioned before. His previous album was all his own songs but with a folk sensibility. He creates songs by pulling odd phrases and themes from traditional song, and mixing them with modern plots and icons. The overall effect is weird but compelling.

His latest album is different. No Earthly Man, is a collection of death ballads. They're not all in Child's collection, but they're all venerable, and I have multiple versions of most of these songs. Some of the album versions are complex, but this 'mini-tour' (now finished) is just Roberts and his guitar. I'd only seen him once before, supporting Billy Bragg; that time he was in a huge theatre and was one of those delightful surprises that support acts all-too-rarely are. To get a sense of what Roberts sounds like, I recommend his session on Planet Claire, with six full-length MP3s to download; a mix of new songs and traditional.

Few of the people in Luminere yesterday were there specifically to see Roberts, but they were attentive enough. It's a standing venue, with room for a hundred or so to stand and watch, with seats a little further away from the band. But the practice seems to be to sit on the floor a few feet in front of the stage, and that suited last night's music well. Roberts played a few songs from No Earthly Man, together with ones from other albums, a couple of new songs, and a couple of guitar pieces. His playing is accomplished and, as you'd expect from such a sparse singer, not at all showy. The whole thing was enthralling and passed by too quickly.

A solid Child Count here: Sweet William's Ghost, Lord Ronald and The Grey Silkie of Sule Skerry. That last is on a 'tour only' EP -- apparently given away at the concert I missed at Cecil Sharp House -- and also contains Andrew Bataan and Sheath and Knife.

[Digression: Lord Ronald (or Randal or Rendal) is interesting; relatively few Child Ballads have humorous versions (I'm starting to collect them, so do send me examples, and I don't need any more variants of the raggle taggle gypsies), but the humorous version of this song, "Green and Yellow", is far better known than any of the many versions of the original ballad. Its origins appear to be music hall, as you might expect, but considering how recent it must be, it's not well nailed down.]

Support came from Jo Mango, who was a pretty promising young Scottish singer-songwriter with a full voice and interesting songs. I didn't buy her CD on the grounds she'd probably have MP3s online, and I am of course disappointed now. Plus she writes songs about her teddybear; what's not to like? Also Woodbine, who were more than the three-piece described on the web and seemed cramped and uncomfortable on the Luminere's tiny stage. They have the sort of singer often described as ethereal; but last night she was quiet, breathy, and either deliberately or desperately out of tune, and the rest of the band would have been better off without her. Their sound may currently be transitional; the web offers a rather Portisheadesque MP3 from Salon, Outer Circle, but what we heard last night had a much rockier sensibility, and was at its best when they gave free rein to that.

Childerbeast count is, incidentally, nil at present: they're at their grandparents'. Which is a good thing given that we got home at umpty-um in the morning.

Posted by Alison at October 24, 2005 10:44 PM


Hi there!

Thanks for the nice words! Thought you might like to know - there should be downloads available on my site by the end of February (when my debut album is out - Wooo!). In the meantime you can find a solitary secret one at this address:


This is the first track off the album.



Posted by: Jo Mango at December 22, 2005 11:22 PM

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