THE best moments in live music are often those that can’t be re-created by spinning the record at home. When touring musicians also play together rather than skedaddling after their set, then magic can happen.
As Blair Dunlop, Magpies’ fiddler Holly Brandon and support act Ellie Gowers sang and played together, Sunday’s concert went from middling to great. The energy and camaraderie between the performers was palpable and the musical results were wonderful.
Blair Dunlop has been forging a strong cult following since his debut back in 2012. As the son of UK folk royalty Ashley Hutchings, Dunlop is used to the level of expectation that welds itself to any son or daughter of such a figure.
He has since moved progressively away from those folk antecedents, but to his credit has also kept traditional elements to the fore. Newly turned 30, he has doubtless many twists and turns ahead.
Like others of his generation (take a bow Ed Harcourt and Teddy Thompson), Dunlop has perhaps found it hard to find a musical spot to wed himself too, and can therefore end up caught between stylistic camps.
On this tour he was playing new tunes. Interestingly, he chose to first play songs that have been rejected by “the suits at the record label”. You have to say they probably made the right call – here was the sound of Dunlop trying too hard. His tale of a Chesterfield working man’s café was simply too workmanlike. Better was to come.
Dunlop is good company on stage. Cutting an elfin figure, he was refreshingly un-diva like, instead talking at length of his love of cars and football. 356, his song about a classic Porsche was memorable (if anatomically incorrect) and new number Giulietta took his love of petrol but made it more relatable.
Dunlop’s guitar playing was consistently excellent, but like the man himself never too flash. Beneath The Citadel was perhaps the best received, with some wonderful picking on display, as well as some high-brow lyrics to match his own fine brows.
Support act Ellie Gowers is a new name to the city, but certainly one to watch. Her well-chiselled songs and playing were consistently fine. From the heart of England (Warwick), Gowers was previewing her debut album (due Autumn 2022) based on traditional folk tales from her home county, along with earlier material in a singer-songwriter garb.
What was arresting was the variety that she weaves into her songs, and the quality of her crystal-clear voice. For an encore, Dunlop and Gowers took on Gillian Welch’s mighty Dark Turn Of Mind and fought it to a draw. Two performers who unmistakably bring the best out of one another. Long may they run.
Review by Paul Rhodes