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Nancy Wallace and Jason Steel, Green Note, London, May 9th 2010

May 12, 2010

After enjoying Nancy Wallace and Jason Steel earlier this month, I was glad we’d got tickets to this intimate little evening at the Green Note. Since the last time we’d seen them, I’d got the recent Jason Steel album, Fire Begot Ash, which I like very much. There’s a lot of traditional finger-picking in the style of Bert Jansch and Davy Graham in there, but also some more spooky old-time music and off-kilter, weird folk songs, sung in his disarmingly gentle voice.

This being a fRoots event, editor Ian Anderson was in evidence, so I bought a discounted copy of the magazine to avoid the possibility of him him pestering us like some folkie Big Issue seller. It was also nice to get a free mini-CD of Nancy and Jason, limited to 15 copies for those at this evening’s show.

Jason kicked off the show, alternating between banjo and guitar, and his first song was Blue Moon. The lad is from Doncaster, so I doubt that it was a tribute to Manchester City, and I avoided singing the Aston Villa version, Blue Nose, for the benefit of The Suit, whose major flaw is supporting Birmingham City. Next up was one of Jason’s own weird -but-good numbers, Lycanthrope Stomp, followed by a traditional song of much saucy naughtiness, Bonny Black Hare. He then shared with us his love of bats (the flying rather than cricketing kind) and finished off his set with a very intricate bat-inspired instrumental. Jason’s guitar- and banjo-playing is extremely proficient, but his blunt humour and distinctive voice lend a welcome personal edge to his music.

Nancy decided to ignore her setlist and performed a really good collection of songs, including traditional numbers, her own compositions and folk-infused cover versions, including Richard Thompson’s Withered And Died and Alan Bell’s moving Alice White:
   My name is Alice White, I’d have you all to know,
   I left my father’s farm, a long long time ago,
   My mother called me a silly lass, she said I’d rue the day
   That I followed on the heels of the navvies.

Her own songs Everything’s Finer and Walking Into Walls were intimate and warm, while we were treated to not one but two traditional dead sailor songs, The Welcome Sailor and The Drowned Lover:
   And all in the churchyard these two were laid,
   And a stone for remembrance was laid on her grave,
   My joys are all ended, my pleasures are fled,
   This grave that I lie in is my new married bed.

I’m a big fan of Nancy’s clear, unaffected voice, while her guitar and concertina skills are fine too. I’m looking forward to her second album, due out sometime later this year on the excellent Rif Mountain label.

For the final set of the night, they both came on to play nearly all traditional songs, including Blow The Candles Out, Polly On The Shore and Jack Hall. Their dual guitar-playing was tight and their voices blended well, but the highspot of the evening was when Jason played on his own and Nancy stood up (she said she can’t sit down for this song) for a superb rendition of Blackwaterside, which I’d raved about when we saw them last month. Nancy’s voice really is very reminiscent of Anne Briggs’, while Jason’s guitar-playing showed off lots of fluid runs and cadenzas that lifted the song into very different and more exotic soundscapes.

The last song of the night was Leadbelly’s standard Goodnight, Irene, which we were all encourage to join in with, and Jason insisted we sing the real line “… I’ll get you in my dreams” rather than the more common “… I’ll see you in my dreams”. Indeed, it does add a more ominous and desperate edge to the song, which fits the spookiness of much of Jason’s sound. They popped back for a well-deserved encore, Nancy’s Sleeping Sickness, before we toddled off into the night.

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