Rachel Newton

Black Swan Folk Club, York

11 October 2018

I'm not a proper "folkie", I discovered folk music through recordings, not live acts singing in clubs. So I'm not used to the whole folk club environment. The idea that people put on a regular music night, with an audience of regulars who all know each other, and people just turn up with their guitars to sing a couple of songs (which the entire audience knows and joins in with), and everybody helps put the chairs away at the end ... all that's foreign to a rock fan like me. But it makes a really nice atmosphere.

And the half-a-dozen "floor singers" were all very good, all very different, and despite not being a folk club veteran I know enough of the music that I recognised almost everything sung (but didn't join in; I don't sing in public, except to Smoke on the Water).

So, it's a really good event, but I was starting to worry that the format would mean I was short-changed on Rachel Newton, who is, after all, the only reason I made the trip to York. But there was nothing to worry about. She played two sets totalling about 90 minutes, as much as I would have expected if I saw her in a concert hall, so I was perfectly content.

I got the impression that although a few people knew her, this was the first time most of the audience had heard her, and I think everybody was as impressed as I am every single time I see her. She starts with the Fairy Lullaby (I'm not going to attempt spelling the Gaelic title), and it's beautiful but it doesn't prepare you for what she can really do when she plays her first instrumental of the night, Rung 2, and it's like, no, this is impossible, humans can't play like this. She's like the Steve Morse of the harp. Or maybe a changeling.

And so it goes on, a mix of instrumentals and songs (in English and Gaelic), selected from all of her albums, and all either sublimely beautiful or jaw-droppingly virtuosic, or both at the same time.

It's a long time since I've seen her play completely solo (the last time may have been Crook Hall in Durham—six years ago?), but I love her like this, hearing how she adapts the music she originally wrote for multiple instruments to suit just one harp. On Bonnie Lassie (originally a duet with Lillias Kinsman-Blake on flute) I swear I can hear her playing the flute parts at the same time as the harp parts.

It's just incredible.

And beautiful.

Best concert I have ever seen.