Downend Folk Club Review July 2017

June 23 2017

India Electric Company - Downend Folk Club Were you ever warned of bookish boys? Nerds brandishing words as weapons?

India Electric Company - Downend Folk Club

Were you ever warned of bookish boys? Nerds brandishing words as weapons? The ones that know the difference between Heathcliff and Linton? Those that can pick the bones from a passing poem with the flick of an artfully floppy fringe? They’re the ones that’ll steal your heart. They’re India Electric Company.

Songs peppered with allusions to poetry flutter from the stage. Glorious words twisted and turned, brandished, burnished and burned. Crafted around guitar, accordion and violin by two geek chic romantic scruffians. Cole Stacey and Joseph O’Keefe are tour hardened and returning to Downend Folk Club after a three year break; they are conquering heroes. Cheeky and warm. Charming and self assured. Star spun and humble. 

Most bands would save a cover of Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” and wheel it out at the end. The fact that we get this glorious, slow burn, sparse and spare treatment as early as the second song of the night speaks volumes.

There’s proper talent here and utter sure-footedness. Stacey’s vocals are magnificent; simple, heart-felt and exactly what we want from a folk/not folk voice.

The two sets for the evening take in both older material, from the debut “The Girl That I Left Behind”, and tracks from the latest EP, “EC1M”. Everything has a classy sheen and highlights are numerous. Chief amongst them, though, are two tracks which take poetry as inspiration. “Heimat” puts the plight of refugees at its heart, stealing lines from WH Auden and creating something that aches. “Parachutes” is newer and references the New York poet Barbara Guest. It is light as air, breathy and floats along on plucked violin strings.

There are times throughout the evening where the contrasts between Stacey’s pop smarts and O’Keefe’s folk-y virtuosity threaten to careen away from one another. The two aspects pulling in different directions yet neither ever fight for dominance. Each gives his partner the time and space to create beauty and each does it to rapturous applause. On this sweltering night India Electric Co mix up endless styles and succeed at every turn. They even end with a country song, the Dylan/Old Crow Medicine Show classic “Wagon Wheel”. It bought the house down and exercised plenty of vocal chords. The perfect dusty end to a perfect Downend night.

They were joined on that last song by their support act, Jack Cookson. A singer and guitarist very much in the India Electric Co mould. He is another man who sees the value in words, many of which betrayed a love/hate relationship with Bristol. His short set showed just why he was nominated for a BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award last year and was full of a similar magpie approach to the headliners. Folk-ish acoustic tunes mixed with a faintly Gypsy Jazz feel. His five songs only left us all wanting much more.

This was a night of poetry. 

Gavin McNamara