Live review: Last ever Family Folk-up
and final Random Family gig,
with SJ Downes, Clean Cut Kid, Sparkwood & 21
St Bride’s Church
Saturday 30th June, 2012
Tonight was my first experience of The Family Folk-Up. Having seen the gig advertised but fearing it would be the sort of event where a grubby little child destroys a ukulele or a mandolin gets stained with Jammy Dodgers I had thought better of going to the show. A few days later I came across The Random Family and decided to have a listen to them, I liked what I heard and looked up where they were playing. The only date I could find was The Family Folk-Up, putting my past fears behind me I bought tickets and found myself at church on a Saturday night for the first time in a long time! Upon arriving I was very pleased to find a queue of 20/30 something all carrying a few bottles of alcohol rather than a church yard full of 4 year olds clutching a bottle of whatever 4 year olds drink these days, Redbull?
The venue as I’ve already mentioned was a church, as a result the acoustics were perfect for the vocal talents of SJ Downes. A clear, booming voice that suited the bluesy finger-picked folk that he played. Stating himself that his set had a theme of death running through it Downes led the crowd through a variety of songs, at one point switching over to pedal steel guitar to vary his sound. Whilst the inclusion of this instrument wasn’t met by the approval of the whole audience there were certainly some that sat up to listen and watch with intrigue as Downes ploughed through his set.
Having only just heard of The Random Family I was saddened upon entering the venue to realise that this was to be their final show. An eclectic bunch their instruments ranged from guitars, banjo and ukulele to flutes and violins this certainly adds an interested sound to their songs with the band choosing the right instrument and sound to fit each. I was surprised to see them take the stage so early in the night but as they stood, at the alter, and begun a beautifully harmonised vocal performance of ‘Mother Pray’ the audience went into silence. Songs were interspersed with tales of previous shows there, comments on the beautiful venue and the times that they had shared as a band which left me feeling as if I really should have moved to Liverpool a lot earlier and been able to enjoy this band live more than once. With each member of the band taking centre stage for the vocal lead whilst others harmonized in the background the set was filled with dynamics that most bands would kill for. Needless to say the audience was mesmorised throughout the entire set and was left wanting more. Luckily they got more and the Random Family were given a good send off.
Next up were Clean Cut Kid who seemed the blend together folk ideas and instruments with the more electric sound of bass and synth. Whether it was because they followed the Random Family or they simply weren’t my cup of tea I found it difficult to enjoy their set. Whilst their songs were poppy and technically well played they lacked an energy or anything to actually draw me in. If I was asked to describe them I would call them ‘folk for the NME generation’ as if Mumford and Sons stumbled upon pop hooks and a synth! The final nail in the coffin for me was the use of pedals on an acoustic guitar, if you aren’t happy with the sound of the acoustic use an electric and manipulate the sound yourself.
As the crowd enjoyed their drinks (honestly never thought I would be in a church surrounded by people drinking alcohol) Sparkwood & 21 took the stage. The younger audience members made their way to the back or outside as the sound changed from the synth and electric sound of Clean Cut Kid to an early R.E.M or Counting Crows with the mandolin taking centre stage very competently. Sparkwood & 21 are clearly a band that have faith in their new songs and played a set heavily influence by their new album ‘Believe In Time’, I have to say it’s a very well deserved faith as the more they played the more I enjoyed their set. Bringing on friends to play brass for some songs again meant that their sound changed a little as the set went on. Sadly for Sparkwood & 21 during ‘Shadows’ with the chorus lines ‘waiting for the silence’ it felt as though if they were to actually wait for silence they would be waiting a long time as several friends, fans, audience members began to talk, shout and generally interrupt the set.
The night ended with an impromptu performance involving bands, audience members and the remaining members of The Random Family singing a farewell to both The Random Family and The Family Folk-Up with an adapted version of ‘In Liverpool’ – sadly I did not get to see a copy of the lyrics beforehand. Overall a fantastic night, an important night I feel for Liverpool folk music and I hope that someone picks up the baton and restarts it so I can enjoy many more nights there, although next time I’ll take a cushion for the pews!
Review © 2012 James Addis
Photos © 2012 Adrian Wharton
last ever family folk-up and final random family gig review