REVIEW: Paul Rhodes’s verdict on Kris Drever and Rachel Baiman, National Centre for Early Music, York, May 29

Kris Drever and Rachel Baiman: “The night was more interesting as you could see they were still learning and working on the finer details” . Picture: Paul Rhodes

THE Drever mark is one that assures quality, whether as one third of Lau, at the core of the Spell Songs “supergroup” or on his one melodious solo work.

Making his first return to York since the pandemic forced him to “wind his neck in” – as he memorably sang on Hunker Down/That Old Blitz Spirit – Kris Drever was the lead in a duo with American multi-instrumentalist Rachel Baiman, hosted by York’s Black Swan Folk Club.

Where Drever’s voice is smooth, Baiman’s has more sharp edges, especially at the top end of her voice. The combination of styles worked a treat, especially so given that their planned tour rehearsals were derailed by a turned-around flight and Baiman being left in stood in the aisle as the train left Winchester.

Both artists have had tours cancelled or curtailed due to Covid, so this setback seems to have inspired them to make the very most of the opportunity to tour. Playing guitar, banjo and singing, Baiman was credited with the arrangements, which revealed new angles to even Drever’s most familiar song, If Wishes Were Horses.

Baiman’s short solo set prompted many to seek out the merchandise stand. It showed an artist who could take many paths, from the traditional Old Songs Never Die to – admittedly more outlandishly – stadium rock (Young Love, following in Patti Smith’s tracks).

Kris Drever: “Standing under the plaque to the men and boys from St Margaret’s and St Peter-le-Willows who died in the Great War”. Picture: Paul Rhodes

The rapport between the duo was easy and unforced, and the night was more interesting as you could see they were still learning and working on the finer details. Drever has sometimes played it too safe with his recorded work, so it was rewarding to see him investing in a riskier collaboration. His guitar playing was as nimble and joyful as ever, particularly on the folksier numbers.

Drever’s set was carefully chosen across his solo work. There was no space for any of his Spell Song contributions, but a new tune, at the behest of the Stonehaven Folk Club, Catterline, had the same timeless, haunting quality of Scatterseed.

His ability to absorb a subject, then convey the essence through song is one of Drever’s greatest gifts. Standing under the plaque to the 40 or so men and boys from St Margaret’s Church and St Peter-le-Willows Church who died in the Great War, Drever’s lament to the Germans who wasted away on Scapa Flow was all the more affecting. Sandy was even better.

The encore, I Didn’t Try Hard Enough, was an ironic note to end on, but closed this highly entertaining evening to rapturous applause for this hard-working pair.

Review by Paul Rhodes