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Sheesham and Lotus and Son
The Autumn season at Doncaster's Roots Music Club, held for the most part at the Ukrainian Centre, a short distance from the town centre, started this evening with a much anticipated appearance by the Canadian Old Time trio Sheesham and Lotus and Son. Sheesham Crow, Lotus Wight and 'Son Sanderson, appear to embody the spirit of 1929 as if it was just yesterday, evoking the era perfectly in terms of the music as well as their dress sense, delivering their own take on Old Time Americana, Blues and Ragtime as if it had never gone out of fashion.
Tonight, the venue showed little sign of life when I arrived, save for the three musicians up on stage going through a routine and seemingly problem-free sound check. The single microphone standing centre stage indicated that tonight's show might just be of the kind of show that I prefer; one mic, three musicians and a handful of vintage acoustic instruments including banjo, fiddle, tuba and assorted harmonicas, jew's harps etc. The trio made the carefully planned choreography that goes with this sort of acoustic show look relatively easy and laid back.
There's little chance of the Roots Music Club ever slipping far from one's mind during a performance at this venue as the audience is constantly reminded of the name not once, but twice, the stage being dominated by two large vertical banners advertising the club's logo, the club's tag line 'Folk, Blues and Beyond' as well as the club's sponsors. I won't labour the fact that I personally prefer a plain backdrop so that all the emphasis is on the artists performing, but in all fairness, after a while this is precisely where all the focus does eventually lie.
Opening for the trio was Darren Eastwell, a singer-songwriter with a confident and soulfully rasping voice, whose songs were tinged with melancholy throughout his set. The opening song, written less than twenty four hours prior to its debut airing tonight, was a heartfelt lament for Aylan Kurdi, the little Syrian boy photographed on the beach in Turkey recently, sparking a media frenzy. Having only been involved in music for a couple of years, the ex-forces singer-songwriter demonstrated much potential, which could possibly only be improved with the addition of a full band.
The most noticeable aspect of Sheesham and Lotus and Son visually, aside from their period costume, of brown bowlers, neck ties and waistcoats, is the close proximity that each of the musicians place themselves, you could say almost huddled around the microphone. The trio launched into the first of their two sets with songs from their prolific repertoire including Down in Your Pockets, Pine Tar Rag, Georgia Crawl, Blue Eyed Jane and the instrumental Roscoe.
The trio's four album releases EVERYTIME, FIVE MILES FROM TOWN, 1929 THE NEW KINGS OF OLD-TIME and THE HIGH STEPPING MUSIC have always maintained a vintage old-time feel, but as recently as June this year, the band spent a week in Skegness, Lincolnshire with Lorna Fulton and Gary Malkin of Sepiaphone Records, recording direct to a 1938 Presto 78rpm recording lathe, further exploring the archaic recording techniques in pursuit of a more authentic sound. The new album 78RPM, due for release shortly, is possibly the closest the band will get to that authentic sound.
Speaking to Sheesham midway through the evening, the singer confessed that the sound differs from one recording to another, not due to each track being recorded at different times, but due to the wear and tear on the needles. The ruby-tipped needles cut deep into the groove with each take and after a short while, the needles start to wear as they become surrounded by the 'swarf' shavings. Of course there are much easier ways to record with modern techniques but those methods can't possibly capture the essence of Charlie Patton, Geeshie Wiley, Sippie Wallace and the East Texas Serenaders.
Continuing with their second set, the trio performed Chinquipin, Darling Corey and 1929, amongst others, whilst working particularly hard to engage the sparse audience with their self-depreciating banter, Sheesham advising everyone to "get on your machines and tell your friends to get around here now - the show's a lot better than it sounds." If the audience felt sparse to the organisers, then it would surely have felt sparse to a trio who only last week were performing in front of 30,000 people at a festival and also for the Danish Royal Family. In true gentlemanly fashion, each of the musicians shook hands at the end of their set, tipped their hats and as the lights went up, we were all back in the dreary modern age once again.