Now what we had here was a Folk Club situation. No! Don’t run away just yet. It was a small venue setting big on surprises. Jack Harris is from a sleepy, one-sheep town in rural mid-Wales. Whilst the fiery-maned, smouldering Pre-Raphaelite tressed antipodian Circe of pedal effect sonic enchantment, Jordan Reyne, hails from New Zealand. And between them both they gave us kaleidoscopic interpretations of traditional Folk, experimental multi-loop Steampunk and all thing in between and then some. Do keep up!
Jack Harris plays what appears to be an acoustic guitar designed for the vertically challenged. Slightly incongruous it seems given he has hands so wide he could use the BFG’s dinner-plates as shirt-buttons. But goodness me can he play. There’s a haunting fluidity and dronal resonance enhanced by open tuning structures, deft use of capo and enchanting harmonic picking. His lyrical imagery sung with a husky sincerity touched on matters close to the heart and soul reminding one of the rough and ready troubadour live-sessions from Loudon Wainwright on John Peel’s Saturday Top Gear. His re-tuning mid-song anecdotal banter has a disarming poetry of its own. On ‘Raider’, played to a sparse minor-key refrain, he evokes tumbleweed echoing connections to early Elton John. There were haunting traditional airs and contemporary laments. Evocative but never sentimental. Think of the beautiful, haunting brevity of Paul Simon’s ‘Song For The Asking’. Now, you need to be a very convincing poet to woe your lady’s favour by drawing an analogy of your love for her to a potato crop in flower. But Jack’s the lad to get away with it. Closing song, ‘Donegal’ played in the manner of ‘peripherally Celtic’ as he would have it, had a harp-like cadence but could have equally been part of a Cole Porter tribute set. A most enigmatically accessible artist. His is a talent to take your breath away and suspend your soul amongst the stars. Look up his albums – Broken Yellow/The Flame & The Pelican. Yes, he is that good.
Now then – Jordan Reyne! We’re all grown-ups here so let’s not beat about the bush – she’s certifiably barking and utterly beguiling. She celebrates the use of multi-pedal effects with enough experimental seat-of-her-knickers derring-do to frighten the most sanguine of sound-desk pioneers. Think John Martin’s multi-vocal layers with Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman’ panting reverberations. There’s a husky edge to her vocals somewhere between Debbie Harry and a chain-saw wrapped-up with a velvet knuckle-duster. As to her appearance? The ginger-flame locks are a give away but fail to distract the eye from her red/black hooped leggings off-set by gossamer cascading ribbons suggesting a slightly distressed Punk Fairy aesthete. Then there’s the boots of nuclear-flask threatening capability. Shin high with multiple chrome-buckle accessories. Not to be argued with at a bondage orgy. Anyway, judging by the weight of them a leg-over would be as impracticable as would be dangerous.
For the most part she weave her spells with variations on acoustic guitar open tunings and the dazzling array of effects pedals. Though how she can manipulate the push-buttons in those Herman Munster boots is a mystery in itself. She creates an evocative American Indian beat by looping a palm thump on the guitar body whilst overlaying a multi-vocal mantra reminiscent of Led Zep wrapped-up in their Arthurian mysticism. She really does like toying with her ‘Machines’ as she refers to her boxes of delight as she creates ever more quixotic soundscapes of arabesque splendour. Think Canadian Cree singer/songwriter Buffy Sainte Marie and Eddie Vedder on backing vox. And while you’re at it throw in a dollop Dylan’s scatological garrulous screams of sub-consciousness. She encores with ‘London’ a gelling of, ‘Two old Folk songs,’ she informs us. Now, here’s the measure of her ‘Steampunk’ credentials: with her ‘machines’ in apocalyptic sonic overdrive cranking-out a moody-Moog broody industrial primal dirge she can nevertheless effortlessly include the lyric ‘Bonny’ as pan-global musics collide.
Setlist: The Arsonist / Johnny & the Sea / The Proximity of Death (Blue Eyed Boy) / Sister Falling (first machine song 😉 / Factory Nation (the very heavy machine song) / A Woman Scorned / Don’t Look Down / Birds of Prey / encores: London / Wait / Blood on the Sea.
Many thanks to Folk folks at World Unlimited and for sound-desk maestro ‘Bridge’ who is recovering remarkably well after the experience.
Gig Review by John Kennedy
Gig Photos by Ian Dunn