August 2019: Downend Folk Club Review
Kitty Macfarlane (support from Louis Campbell) Friday June 21, Frenchay Village Hall
WE'VE met Kitty Macfarlane before, here at Downend Folk Club.
We first encountered her some three years ago, when she opened for Jimmy Aldridge and Sid Goldsmith as an early-twenty-something. She’d just released her first EP and her potential was clear to see. Then she came back in January 2018 to open for her friend Blair Dunlop. She’s also sat in the audience a fair few times since she relocated to Bristol.
Yes, we’ve met before.
But the Kitty Macfarlane we see before us tonight is a different proposition altogether. This is a mature, considered and thoughtful performance of some truly beautifully-crafted songs from an artist who’s development has been mirrored by an astronomical rise in her profile since the release of her debut album, Namer of Clouds, late last year.
It’s mostly from that record that this evening’s songs are taken. The theme of nature and wildlife is almost ever-present in Kitty’s two enchanting sets; there are tales of mythical giants falling in love and then falling over to form the Avon Gorge (Avona & The Giant); beachcomning (Wrecking Days); elderly Italian ladies spinning fine material from sea-creatures (Sea Silk); and, of course, a song about Kitty’s favourite animal, accompanied by many facts and the appearance of temporary eel tattoos on the merch desk (Glass Eel).
There are a plethora of acoustic guitar wielding singer-songwriters out there, so to get noticed takes something special. Since we last saw her, Kitty has added the clever use of recorded “found sound” to her set. Her voice is crystal-clear... you really can hear every. single. word, precise and yet natural. She soars to the heights of the Frenchay Village Hall rafters, and in the next breath, gathers in the near-capacity audience with hushed, almost whispered tones. Her guitar playing is sensitive and skilled. These things set her apart on their own. But it’s the songwriting that really grabs you. Kitty writes songs about things that matter. The afformentioned Glass Eel isn’t really about eels, you see... it’s about freedom of movement and the urge to travel. These are songs that both make you sing (for months afterwards) and make you think (possibly for even longer). And she can tell a tale and write a catchy tune, too, as songs like Dawn & Dark and Man, Friendship prove beyond all doubt. There are even a couple of traditional numbers for the real folkies (Morgan’s Pantry, Frozen Charlotte).
Downend Folk Club’s long-stated dual aims are to bring the best of the country’s emerging folk, roots and acoustic music to South Gloucestershire, and also to give opportunities to young musicians just starting out, and the evening’s opening act Louis Campbell definitely falls into that category. With his deft and impressive finger-style guitar playing (he’s currently under the tutelage of a certain Martin Simpson, so perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised) and an interesting a varied singing style, including a more than acceptable falsetto, this is definitely a young man to watch. Are You Wearing Socks Over There is the highlight of a hugely promising set.
But, on her third visit, this is Kitty’s night. When we see artists on a regular basis, it’s occasionally easy to fail to spot just how far they’ve come. She left us in no doubt this evening. If October’s BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards don’t feature the name Kitty Macfarlane, then there’s precious little justice in the world.
Words: Bea Furlong
Photo: Jo Elkington