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Once again the 'Backroom' at the Greystones was suitably business-like for another gig, in an ever-expanding list of successful live events to be staged at the popular Sheffield venue. The stage was initially set for the support band, a local duo comprising singer-songwriter Chelsea Alice Scott along with husband/partner Josh, which consisted of just a couple of guitars and a white Vox pre-amp on an otherwise empty stage. The familiar sound of Anais Mitchell's Young Man in America played over the PA system as the audience were seated. Not so much packed to the rafters it has to be said, but certainly more than enough bodies around all of the tables to create a warm and inviting atmosphere. One or two white Christmas decorations were still hung from the now famous monochrome backdrop as the duo took to the stage for their opening set, which was respectfully received by the audience.
The Rails, also a husband and wife team, featuring Kami Thompson and James Walbourne, brought to the stage a slightly intense performance tonight; you may be forgiven for fantasising on the image of the Pretenders guitarist jumping off stage at any given moment and wrapping his guitar around someone's neck, such was the aggressive fervour in which he attacked his guitar, with an almost consistently pained grimace upon his face throughout the set. It's a rock and roll pose he's entitled to exhibit, which comes with a talent to go with it; a sort of David Rawlings with clenched fists. His musical partner beside him - his right hand woman so to speak - stood almost motionless, visually reminiscent of a young Kate Winslet yet audibly the hybrid of two music greats of any genre, with genes shared not only with mum and dad (Richard and Linda), but also with an equally successful sibling.
Promoting their current seven-song EP AUSTRALIA, which is made up of predominately traditional material, along with one or two originals, the duo opened their set with their arrangement of I Wish, I Wish, demonstrating from the start the duo's credentials for superb harmony singing, present throughout the rest of the set. The Trees They Grow High, a song apparently learned from a Martin Carthy LP that James picked up in a Holmfirth Oxfam charity shop for the princely sum of £1.50, once again showed just how tightly the duo's vocal harmonies have developed over the last few years since they began working together in 2011, despite Kami losing control momentarily during the final verse. A swift whiskey soon sorted that out.
The more familiar songs from the duo's repertoire, notably Bonnie Portmore, William Taylor, Breakneck Speed and the title song from The Rails' debut album FAIR WARNING, incidentally the first LP to be released on the famous Island 'Pink' label since the early 1970s, were all performed superbly, albeit with a more stripped-down to essentials arrangement to the album versions. If the duo were prolific throughout the set with great songs, then their song introductions, verbal communication and general chit-chat was kept very much to a minimum, despite Kami's smirking and well-timed aside "I'm known for my banter".
Leaving the stage after performing Fair Warning, the audience demanded an encore and were pleasantly surprised and duly gratified when the duo returned to perform not one, not two but three more songs, James's own Mandy, from an earlier EP, WEST HEATH, Edwin Collins' Low Expectations and finally the lilting Country-influenced Habit. I then joined the queue to buy the EP which was selling like hot cakes.