The House Sisters / Kirstine Sand

The Bridge, Newcastle

1 April 2009

So I finally managed to see a full-length (well, about an hour) set from the House Sisters and they lived up to all my expectations. This is an extremely exciting group to watch.

The first thing you notice about the House Sisters is how closely the two violins harmonise. Rachel Cross and Carly Blain play as if they are siamese twins — two bodies controlled by one brain. The result is a fantastic sound, and even better to watch live than listen to on the CD as you can see how the melodies move back and forth between them. (What's the only thing better than a violin player? Two violin players.)

The second thing you notice is what makes their sound unique (in my experience), and that's how the piano is used. It doesn't usually carry the melody as you might expect but sits "underneath" it, with Kira Slater's distinctive percussive playing style providing a kind of rhythmic underpinning to the violins... almost a continuo, I suppose. But that doesn't mean the piano can't carry the melody, and it leads very well on things like the beautiful song How I Wish (my favourite, I think).

Their hour included so many tunes that I can't even name them all (but that's ok, neither could they!), some traditional and some self-written, with about half a dozen songs scattered throughout the instrumental set.

If I had to make a minor complaint, it's that I wish Kira would show more confidence when she's singing, project more of herself into the songs and just go for it! Maybe that's something that has to come as she gets older (they are such good musicians that it's hard to remember they must be barely out of their teens...).

So, yes, that's the House Sisters. Fantastic music played by extremely talented musicians. And they also present a very friendly and engaging (and slightly scatty) stage presence that makes it impossible not to like them. And they seem to be really enjoying themselves. You couldn't ask for anything more. I'm recommending them to everybody.

* * *

Ok, I know I've said before that it's a bad idea to go to a gig just to see the support band, when you might hate the headline act, but as this was my only chance to see the House Sisters I figured it was worth taking a chance on Kirstine Sand (who I knew nothing about). And as the House Sisters played for a full hour I got my money's worth before Kirstine came on. But I still didn't know if Kirstine Sand was going to be any good.

Well, Kirstine Sand is extremely good.

Kirstine plays violin and is accompanied by Marie Sønderby on piano and trombone (yes, trombone, no, I am not kidding), and they played for about an hour also.

And the music wasn't at all what I was expecting. About half of her set was self-written tunes and half was traditional Danish tunes, but a lot of it didn't feel like what I would call folk music... a lot of the tunes were almost like classical sonatas (in feeling, not in structure). I can't describe it any better than that. If this is traditional Danish music, it seems that their traditions went in very different directions to ours. Beautiful, beautiful music.

I am very happy that I decided to take a chance on the gig.

And then the final encore, with all five of the night's musicians on stage, was just the best thing ever.