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Melrose Quartet

The Live Room, Caroline Street Social Club, Saltaire
Sunday 13 December 2015

A very wonderful performance by the Melrose Quartet on Sunday night rounded off a superb year of music at The Live Room, Saltaire. The audience, already treated to complimentary luxury mince pies and chocolates, enjoyed a master class in vocal harmonies by the Melrose Quartet. The Quartet, named after the Street in Sheffield where all four members live comprises Nancy Kerr, partner James Fagan and Jess and Richard Arrowsmith. They have been close friends for many years and the understanding and rapport those years have brought was very evident in the music they performed. When writing a review of these artists I realised the inadequacy of my knowledge of musical terminology. All four play instruments and sing , Nancy and Jess play Fiddles, Richard the Melodeon and James both Guitar and Bouzouki. Although the playing was superb; for me it was the strength, arrangements and intricacies of the harmonies that really delighted, thrilled and captivated. Much of the material was performed Acapella  but with Canons, Chants, Counterpoints, Refrains and Rounds and much more. I would imagine one of their performances could form the basis of a whole term of musical lectures. The beauty of the performance meant that it was just so enjoyable that the two sets  were over all too quickly. I am sure the audience could have treated their ears to more of the same for several more hours without tiring . The word Synergy can be an overused term but for tonight's performance it was most apt. They all fed off each other to produce a very energetic and powerful sound- the sum definitely being greater than the individual components. 

James, sporting a festive tie,  started the show with The Death of Nelson from their only CD FIFTY VERSES. This gave the audience a taste of what was in store. An  a cappella Wedding Bells with chorus emulating a peel of bells followed with beautiful four-part harmonies. Tom Tolley's/Lucy's Two were performed with enough energy, if the whoops and yells were anything to go by,  to satisfy the Morris Dancers in the crowd. The title track of the CD was next with Nancy weaving in Norse mythology references to wolves swallowing the sun. I always appreciate so called Pagan references at this time of year. Richard, also wearing festive tie led on 'Ware Out Mother again a cappella. Richard demonstrating an almost sub sonic bass voice throughout the show. Many of the songs performed were written as gifts for each other and friends. We were treated to carols in  each set. An a cappella  Sheffield version of The Holly and the Ivy with Jess taking the lead led to a very rousing set of tunes to end the set.

In homage to Christmas James started the second set with a story about son Hamish overturning their first Christmas tree. This took us into When You Were Born and another rousing set of tunes. There were some new songs Pilgrimage, a Jess composition inspired by recruitment adverts after visiting Belgium. Hand Me Down, written by Nancy for Richard and Anthem of a Working Mum, written by Jess for Nancy . They performed a superb version of Come and I Will Sing You (The Twelve Apostles) but it was so much faster than the CD  version that it seemed akin to Scottish mouth music. A version of While Shepherds Watched with a tune better known as On Ilkley Moor Bar T'At. According to tradition On Ilkley Moor was a spoof version of While Shepherds Watched composed by a Halifax Choir on a Church outing to Ilkley. Whatever the truth , the version was superb. All too soon following a set of Polkas the set came to an end. Thankfully we were treated to 2 encores. The first an a cappella Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer led by Jess. A fully orchestrated and rousing John Ball just to remind us at this time of year that all men were created equal finished the show.

The only disappointment for me was that there is still only one album and therefore nothing new for my Christmas present list. However when you consider the huge range of projects that all members of this band are involved in we should be grateful for FIFTY VERSES. They did hint that a new CD may happen next year. let's hope so. 

The Live Room has gone from strength to strength over the last three years winning the 2015  Yorkshire Gig Guide award for Outstanding Yorkshire Promoter. James and Nancy mentioned that this was a gig venue that has really gained a great reputation. Next year's January programme already features both Rod Picott and the musical genius Tim O'Brien, presumably taking a break from his almost permanent residence in The Transatlantic Sessions line up. Many thanks to Ron and Hilary for all the wonderful music they have brought to Saltaire this year.  

Keith Belcher
Northern Sky