Friday 3rd November 2017, The Live Room, Caroline Social Club, Saltaire. There were many outdoor fireworks displays on Friday night. Indoors at the Live Room however we had some musical pyrotechnics to match anything going on outside. The opening act was Billy Kemp, born in Baltimore but a long time Nashville resident who played a 1930’s Martin guitar and an opened backed banjo, named Moe and Bart respectively. A Grand Old Opry performer and a great song writer and raconteur who had a very relaxed and accomplished manner. Opening with ‘Death & Taxes’, his delivery reminded me very much of Loudon Wainwright III. In the 1980’s Billy hosted song writing nights at the legendary Bluebird Cafe. He mixed great stories with very well-crafted songs, many from new album ‘ANOTHER LIFE’, all delivered in a very clear distinct voice with great musicianship on both guitar and banjo. He finished his set to great applause with ‘Mr. Wilson, The Stonecutter’, stone cutter being a term used to describe people who drank too much ‘falling down water’.
Ok, now for the main act, Canadian duo Harrow Fair based in Toronto. Comprising Miranda Mulholland on fiddle and Andrew Penner on various percussion and guitar, both having very powerful, often rootsy voices, used to great effect. This is where the musical fireworks started. I’d describe a lot of their music and ‘down and dirty’ stomp rock. A recording of an auctioneer provided the backdrop to their opening song ‘Told A Lie To My Heart’ from their CD CALL TO ARMS. Miranda having a very animated stage presence and one of the best rock style fiddle techniques I have seen recently. While Miranda was extremely mobile Andrew spent a lot of time seated at a bass kick drum with his feet while also playing quite cranked up guitar with occasional bottleneck. Their overall sound was bigger than two people, Andrew being bass and rhythm as well as lead guitar, standing on occasions to play drumsticks on the side of the kick drum, the pair at times seemingly singing at each other across the stage, at times harmonising.
The last thing I expected was a confession from Miranda to being a ‘Escape To The Country’ addict, all 17 series, no half measures there. Songs were not all cranked up rock, ‘Emmaline’, described as their version of Dolly’s ‘Joleen’ was tender and haunting. A lot of the material may have been new to the audience but several covers all done brilliantly in their own style were well known. A really punchy version of John Hartford’s ‘Long Hot Summer Day’ was the first of these. I think Miranda had to change bows at the end of that song as she put so much into it. Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’ was a definite audience pleaser and Memphis Minnie’s ‘When The Levee Breaks’ would bring a smile to even the most dedicated Led Zep fan. The set finished proper with ‘Bite The Way’ before coming back for a totally off mike encore of The Rankin Family’s ‘Fare Thee Well Love’ with both Miranda and Andrew off stage, filling the room with a very emotive performance. A well satisfied audience had a great time.