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Leeds was its usual busy self by the time I arrived in the city this afternoon as the Saturday afternoon shoppers dispersed and the night owls descended. With each of the six members of The Shee arriving from all points North, it was a feat of professionalism on the part of both the band and the venue to have the sound checks all done and dusted by easily around five-ish, with even a little time to spare to do a spot of filming for Opera North. This gave me ample time to have a chat with the ever accommodating Laura-Beth Salter backstage at the Howard Assembly Room.
Celebrating ten years together as a band, The Shee show little sign of fatigue, despite their busy individual schedules. The six could quite easily have become seven at any given moment tonight, with Lillias Kinsman-Blake's bump very much in evidence up there on stage, whilst Rachel Newton occupied the extreme opposite side of the stage, not firing on all cylinders (physically speaking) and still nursing a stonker of a cold, which meant the harpist couldn't speak, let alone sing. This happened to Emily Portman at Musicport back in October. The faeries are cursed.
The Howard Assembly Room is an ideal venue for The Shee, the stage offers an almost custom made space for these six musicians to form their familiar crescent. The acoustics are always good, the lighting perfect and the atmosphere conducive to great acoustic music. Unaware of the building's history, I was surprised when support singer Fuzzie Jones pointed out that the place used to be an 'adult cinema' prior to Opera North transforming the place into a respectable concert theatre. Flanked by guitarist Jonny Flockton and Fletch the bassist, the Leeds-based singer provided some self-penned songs to warm the place up ready for the main event.
The Shee's latest project Continuum, a show the band launched at Celtic Connections recently, sees each of the musicians collaborating with a chosen artist, each one especially commissioned to write a song that would suit their counterpart. Laura-Beth asked Martin Simpson, who delivered the gorgeous Dancing Shoes, which was prefaced tonight by a tune Martin wrote in tribute to the late Jasper King. Olivia asked Chris Wood who came up with Cradle Song, Lillias asked flautist Brian Finnegan who presented her with Soaring Sea, Amy asked Andy Cutting who gave the accordionist Lady Grey - "I'm not sure whether it's about Newcastle's Lady Grey or the tea, I'll have to check with him" quipped Amy before she launched into the piece. Shona's choice was Kathryn Tickell, who provided the fiddler with O'er Late for the Lasses based on an older traditional tune. Fortunately all those musicians agreed and six new pieces were instantly added to The Shee's repertoire. All of the songs and tunes were performed tonight, except for the song that Karine Polwart wrote for Rachel, who was unable to sing the song tonight due to her absent voice.
Although the six new commissions, each destined to appear on the band's forthcoming album CONTINUUM due out later in the year, made up half of the set, the band were only too willing to look back over their ten years together with one or two more familiar songs such as Troubles, which the band opened with, the sprawling ballad Eppie Morrie, also from their DECADANCE period and the popular Tom Paine's Bones. There was also a moment of clog dancing courtesy of Amy Thatcher.
Closing with the more recent Inge's, a set of tunes from the band's most recent release MURMURATIONS, the band returned for an unexpected request of Sugar and Pie. "That's our most un-PC song" confessed Laura-Beth, to which the audience member who called for it responded "I love it!" The band muddled through the under-rehearsed song, which provided a fitting end to an otherwise note-perfect concert.