Carthy Hardy Farrell Young / Rachel Newton

Cecil Sharp House, London

27 September 2014

Let me be up front about this: I came to this gig to see the support act, Rachel Newton. Which doesn't mean I had no interest in Eliza Carthy, Bella Hardy, Lucy Farrell, and Kate Young. I've seen all of them individually more than once, and would happily see them all again. But I didn't know how they would work as an ensemble, and I had reservations. Their voices are all so different in character that I couldn't imagine them fitting together well. I wouldn't have come all the way to London just to satisfy my curiosity, but I was interested enough that it was the deciding factor in coming to see a support slot from Rachel Newton.

And I made the right decision. They put on a fantastic show, well worth the trip. I was right about their voices — they are all highly distictive and totally different from one another, and to be honest it's not always an easy partnership. I thought the first couple of songs were a bit messy vocally, but by the third song (Walking After Midnight — one of my favourite songs anyway) something seeemd to click into place and suddenly the harmonic effect was extraordinary, and the differences a strength rather than a weakness. And after that it was all uphill, as they just sounded better and better with each new song. The variety of material is quite idiosyncratic, with a mix of traditional English songs and more modern American songs, and the arrangements for their four fiddles and varied percussion is again unlike anything I've heard before. Overall, they have something completely unique, and definitely worth hearing.

And on top of that, I think I've rarely seen a group having so much unaffected fun on stage. They have a great chemistry together and with the audience, and have the funniest between-song patter of anyone this side of Rick Wakeman.

And what about the person I'd actually come to see? I've already written reams about Rachel Newton, and I think there's not much I can add. Rachel is one of a very small number of musicians I would travel 250 miles to see in concert for the seventh (!) time this year.

Her hour-long set was very similar to the set I saw at The Old Cinema Launderette but this time she had Mattie Foulds joining her and fiddler Lauren MacColl, his subtle and inventive percussion giving the songs a completely different character (much closer to the way I heard them originally in Glasgow and how they sound on the CD).

Really, either band was worth the trip. Together? Best concert I've ever been to.