The Furrow Collective

The Sage, Gateshead

25 October 2016

The Furrow Collective go from strength to strength, from playing the tiny Cluny 2 a year ago to comfortably filling Hall 2 of the Sage now. And they mark the transition by playing the longest set I’ve yet heard from them: without a support band, the concert lasts slightly over two hours (with an interval in the middle for buying CDs and t-shirts).

They have a new CD out, and I think they play just about all of it tonight, plus all of last year's EP, and so despite the almost-two-hour playing time they only fit in a couple of songs from their debut CD. But that's ok, the new songs are all excellent, and I'll forgive them for missing out Hind Horn (just this once, mind).

With new songs come new instruments, and the stage set-up looked alarmingly cluttered when I first saw it. One of the beautiful things about the Furrow Collective is their sparse instrumentation, all on traditional instruments (Emily: banjo and concertina; Alasdair: guitar; Lucy: violin and viola; Rachel: harp), and suddenly they’re also playing an electric keyboard, electronic guitar, and drum. I have reservations that the Furrow Collective are going to lose what makes them special.

But actually, they don't. The new instruments are all sparsely and tastefully used, and add layers to some of the songs without dominating anything or detracting from anything. There's a song (and don't expect me to remember the names of new songs the morning after!) which features an electric guitar and electric organ sound that evokes an amazing, spin-tingling atmosphere, and doesn't sound any less "traditional" than their other material just because it's "plugged in". These instruments aren't a new direction for the band, they're just enhancing what they already do.

The instrumentation leaves plenty of space in the songs for their voices, as they take it in turn to sing lead on different songs. And the voices are the real selling point of the band; each one has its own unique character perfectly suited to the songs they each choose, while together they blend into beautiful two-, three- or four-part harmonies.

So, ok, what haven't I covered? Beautiful instrumentation, beautiful singing, a set of superbly chosen songs, and a warm, friendly evening of on-stage banter and good humour. Yes, I think that covers it. That's what makes this one of my favourite live bands at the moment.

Furrow Collective t-shirt