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Drever, McCusker and Woomble

Drill Hall, Lincoln
Sunday 8 February 2009

On each of the several occasions I've arrived at the Drill Hall in Lincoln, I've habitually taken up my regular seat by the bar in the Armoury Cafe, taken out my notepad and jotted down a few preliminary notes in the deserted confines of the foyer, before anyone else gets there, whilst the box office clerk answers a few random telephone queries and the bar staff open the shutters in order to prepare the bar for the interval drinks. There's usually the customary leakage of a formal soundcheck filtering through from the main hall, giving me a taste of what's to come. These are usually pleasant contemplative moments for me and are very much a part of the experience of attending gigs these days.

No such privileges tonight though. As I approached the venue, it was already obvious that things were buzzing along nicely, and the Armoury Cafe Bar was already full of eager music fans, enthusiastically congregated for what promised to be a landmark concert. Alan Ritson's endeavours to put Lincoln on the folk and acoustic music map appears to be paying off, and this is largely due to his impeccable taste and enthusiastic entrepreneurial spirit.

There's little wonder tonight's concert was sold out in advance and that bums were occupying all the seats so early, even on a dreadfully cold night that threatened snow, and lots of it. Three of Scotland's brightest young musicians had finally arrived in Lincoln as part of their much anticipated tour following the release of their acclaimed collaborative album 'Before the Ruin' last year, which has pretty much been sizzling away constantly on my car stereo as the heater hovered on eleven continually throughout this awful winter.

John McCusker and Kris Drever are no strangers to the British folk scene after fruitful apprenticeships in both the Battlefield Band and Lau respectively, each gaining widespread accolades along the way. There's a tendency to expect little other than consumate quality in anything McCusker touches and Drever just happens to have a knack of making things look much easier than they actually are. He's one of those blokes that you imagine would have been just as good as a footballer or an astronaught had he answered those particular callings. Fortunately for us, he chose folk music to feverishly pursue instead. Idlewild's charismatic frontperson Roddy Woomble adds a bunch of incredibly good songs together with a distinctive voice and a little bit of that rock 'n roll sensibility and together we are presented with a unique combination.

Billed in some places as 'support', Heidi Talbot and Boo Hewerdine infiltrate this Scottish stronghold with exceptional grace and represent both Ireland and England respectively, with first of all, one of the most delightful female voices on the folk music scene today and secondly, a gifted and much loved singer songwriter from Cambridge. You tend not to think of Heidi and Boo as support, but more or less as part of the band, taking equal place amongst the boys from North of the border.

The Cherish the Ladies singer sang a handful of songs from her second and most recent album, the Boo Hewerdine produced 'In Love and Life', proving that she is equally at home on stage as she is in the studio. Opening with Jay Clifford's Cathedrals we see Heidi and Boo for the first and last time as a duo before John McCusker and Kris Drever join them for pretty much the remainder of the set, which included performances of Bedlam Boys, the Tom Waits song Time and a couple of up tempo numbers, Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott's Music Tree and Boo Hewerdine's Everything all of which appear on Heidi's current album. Boo Hewerdine managed to squeeze in a couple of songs from his latest release during the set including Amen and White Lillies, both of which he pointed out with his usual sardonic wit, come from the better of his two Toy Box mini CDs.

Although the show was divided into two distinct halves, the first being dominated by Boo and Heidi and the second by the Drever, McCusker, Woomble trio, there's the sense of a good old fashioned 'session' going on, with each of the artists wandering on and off stage when they feel surplus to requirements. With the addition of double bassist Kevin McGuire, much of the second set was centred around the Drever, McCusker, Woomble collaboration album 'Before The Ruin', including the driving title song as well as Silver and Gold, Into The Blue and All Along The Way, peppered with some of the songs from Woomble and Drever's respective solo albums My Secret Is My Silence and Black Water.

Though the evening almost completely concentrated on a song based performance, the biggest applause ironically followed a show stopping stomper of a set of tunes courtesy of McCusker and Drever, who together as a duo brought the essence of the music of the Battlefield Band and Lau, yet losing none of the raw power and energy of the larger combos. You got the feeling that the audience could've done with a little more of that to warm them up on such a cold night.

Concluding with Stuck in Time which seamlessly segued into Kris Drever's Poor Man's Son, the concert reached it's climax as the snows outside transformed the sleepy spires of Lincoln Cathedral and surrounding city into a picturesque seasonal greetings card, under which I think I left my car somewhere.

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky