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Sam Carter, The Slaughtered Lamb, Clerkenwell, April 28th 2010

April 29, 2010

I’ve enjoyed hearing Sam Carter play live on several occasions, most recently at the Memory Band gig at the same venue, but it was the Browne Bluesman and Mrs B who persuaded me to go to this one. They played his 2009 CD Keepsakes in the car on the way back from Brighton the other week and I was very taken with it.

26-year-old Sam is something of a rising star, having been tutored by the great Martin Simpson, and he justly won the Horizon Award at this year’s prestigious Radio 2 Folk Awards for best emerging artist. The Slaughtered Lamb was busy but not full to see him up close.

He started with a gentle a cappella song, called The No Testament (thanks to Sam himself for the info!), that shows his fine, slightly melancholic, voice. ‘Pastoral’ his solo style might appear, but the next song, Yellow Sign, proves that he’s resolutely urban too. Sam’s lyrics here show a piercing eye for life in modern deprived London:
   On a November day in an East End cafe
   There’s a fight kicking off to the right of me
   ‘Well I’ve half a mind to hurt you,’ he cries
   ‘But I don’t want the world and his wife to see.’
   And he’s dragged that girl outside
   With his arms around her,
   There’s a yellow sign
   Where they found her.

He softens again for the next number, Spill Those Secrets, a revealing and intimate song, while the next tune, Hired Hands, details his anger at his uncle losing his job in the recession. Sam’s ability to juggle the private and the public, the hard and the soft, is admirable, while the next song, Here In The Ground, is almost heart-breaking in its directness and honesty, concerning as it does the death of his sister. As Sam said (and I paraphrase), ‘Songs should tell the truth about the way people live,’ which should be sprayed on the walls of recording studios up and down the land when gel-haired indie boys straight from stage school swagger in wanting to be the Next Big Thing.

Matt Ridley on upright bass joined Sam for Station Road and then the nakedly personal She Won’t Hear:
   Carrying a suitcase from the car across the drive
   And I’m bending over backwards just to keep her hopes alive.
   Is it worse to let it happen or to engineer the fall?
   Moving in together has made this house so small

The two of them were joined by Sam Nadel on drums for Pheasant, with it’s great line, ‘You flatten me like a pheasant on a country lane.’ Sam was wearing his Folk Against Fascism t-shirt and briefly but eloquently explained why, before singing Bones:
   Yet I’m in no rush to get away before the ship goes down,
   The first of us to jump is just the last of us to drown

After the relative gentleness of Dew and Taxi, Sam picked up his electric guitar and launched into Fight, a slow-burner reminding me distantly of South San Gabriel. And don’t tell me you don’t know who South San Gabriel are – you should be ashamed. A bit of Grand Drive too… Then we got to the electric climax to the show – a rocking Oh Dear, Rue The Day, a traditional song and almost a response by a man to I Wish I Was A Maid Again:
   Oh dear, rue the day that ever I married
   How I wish I was single again,
   All this weeping and wailing
   And rocking the cradle,
   Rocking a baby that’s none of my own.

Sam seemed to enjoy a bit of rock and I loved it. This is certainly a direction I think he could profitably take further, as it fits nicely against his picking folk-style singer-songwriting. In fact, I’d rather have fewer of the softer boy-meets-girl songs, as I’m more of a sucker for psych-folk-rock. That’s just a personal preference – I’m sure the best thing he could do is ignore advice such as mine… The encore was a jolly holiday song, Lanzarote, and Sam got a richly deserved cheer – and a ‘whoop’ or two – from a thoroughly entertained crowd. He’s a very fine songwriter – which is why I’ve quoted his lyrics quite so extensively – so watch out for him. Here’s Sam singing Nic Jones’s Canadee-i-o:

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