The Furrow Collective

The Cumberland Arms, Newcastle

24 April 2019

I wish I could talk coherently to bands after a gig. But as soon as one of them (in this case, Rachel Newton) seems to recognise me from previous gigs and says hello, my mind goes instantly blank and I have to run away. When what I should really do is say, thank you. Thank you, that was beautiful.

Because it was. I have seen members of the Furrow Collective many times, both individually and together, and I like everything they do individually. And their contrasting voices and instrumental styles suggest that they shouldn't be able to fit together, but when they do play collectively (see what I did there?), something magical happens and the sound that comes out is just beautiful.

The have a new album out, which I haven't heard yet, and half of tonight's 90-minute set is drawn from that, but it's the kind of material where you don't need to be familiar with it to appreciate it. Everything they perform is as old as the hills, but they put a unique spin on everything, so no matter how often you might have heard something like The Dark Eyed Gypsies or The Cruel Mother (I think?), I can guarantee you have never heard them sound quite like this band's versions. And some of the material is far too obscure for me to have ever heard before, so it's a constant journey of discovery throughout the night.

The four of them take turns on the lead vocals, but their best moments come when they sing together, the four voices so different and yet somehow blending perfectly. There are moments when the harmony goes in such unusual directions that you wonder if one of them has gone wrong, but of course they haven't, they know exactly what they're doing and it's all part of what makes their sound unique.

The voices are supported by what is usually quite minimal instrumentation. Occasionally they all play together, and again you wonder how such diverse instruments as banjo and harp, viola and concertina, can possibly fit so well, but they just do More often, though, you're listening to just one or two instruments playing sparsely, leaving room for the vocals. I especially have to mention the electric guitar, which is used rarely and subtly, but when it is it's probably the most beautiful sound of the night.

Familiar songs and new discoveries, all wrapped in beautiful and inventive arrangements and linked by friendly and funny stage banter. Honestly, what else could you want from a gig? There's something quietly special about this band, and though their gigs are few and far between, when they do come round they always feel like the best concert you've ever seen.