REVIEW: Paul Rhodes’s verdict on Brigid Mae Power, Black Swan Folk Club, Black Swan Inn, Peasholme Green, York, March 23

Brigid Mae Power: “Beautiful vocals and ability to cast a spell”. Picture: Eva Carolan

BRIGID Mae Power had been through a difficult week. Alluding to trials on Twitter, she then had car problems on her way up from London. Flustered but here, and very welcome.

Power is a critically acclaimed Irish singer-songwriter who doesn’t really fit neatly into any conventional musical box. Most of her music could not be described as folk.

Her beautiful vocals and ability to cast a spell have drawn favourable comparisons with the likes of Van Morrison or Tim Buckley. While Power has none of Morrison’s poetry, Buckley’s jazz folk sulk mid-period is a better match. Both trade in heart music.

Power was performing solo. The (metaphorically) naked presentation underlined how spun throughout with her characteristic wordless ululations, Left open-ended and spun throughout with her characteristic wordless ululations, the tunes showed their simplicity and sameness too, as well as, by their absence, highlighting how clever her album productions are.

The first half was somewhat underwhelming. A new number, Ashling – a tribute to primary school teacher and traditional Irish musician Ashling Murphy, who was attacked and killed while jogging – lacked the expected emotional heft. Her piano proved a better servant than the guitar, leaving more space for her voice to roam.

Power grew up in an extended Irish family near Wembley, surrounded by music. Her aunt, her earliest musical inspiration, was three rows back, which led to a touching moment.

Playing to a packed folk club, Power wisely leaned more on the traditional elements of her repertoire. The (once rebellious) Down By The Glenside (covered by Mary O’Hara and others) was wonderful and our one chance to sing along. Her cover of May Morning Dew was also spot on (from her excellent covers EP from 2021).

Having recovered from the trip, and one too many chilli peanuts before the start, the second half was a big improvement. In good spirits, the song selection was stronger, showcasing her more melodic side in City Nights. Wedding Of A Friend’s tune belied the startling subject matter, as ever unresolved and left hanging in the air.

The 20-song set list touched on different corners of her back catalogue, but what would the new material sound like? Dream From The Deep Well is due for release in June. Power, however, has been living with the material for some time.

Counting Down (“a sappy one”, said its writer) was full of yearning for home, while Some Life You’ve Known rang true. It will be interesting to see what the songs sound like in sequence with their fur coats on (to quote Sandy Denny).

Power’s quiet power comes from her ability to cast wordless spells. Performed eyes closed, one foot swirling to the music, it looks like the tunes transport her. She doesn’t overuse this feature of her performance or over-sing. It is mood music of the best kind, but it does require you to be in the right, or wrong, frame of mind.

On balance, Power turned the concert around enough to pull us into her world.

Review by Paul Rhodes