Wednesday night at The Slaughtered Lamb in Clerkenwell felt like folk central.
I went to see The Urban Folk Quartet play their new album and, while standing at the bar trying to order a plate of the fantastic fish and chips they do there - what do they put in that batter? - saw that Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker were the support. At least I assumed Ben would be there - he always is. But for some reason or other, probably connected with someone's modesty, they're always just billed as Josienne Clarke.
There was this poster up behind the bar, you see.
That wasn't it. That's just the best pic I could find of the two of them.
Anyhow, this was great news and rather unexpected. I have loved The UFQ long time, and am coming to love Josienne and Ben too, although in a more piquant and understated fashion. Whereas The UFQ demands jumping up and down and undignified whooping, Ben and Josienne are a delicate, winding and unwinding proposition that requires close attention. Both bands are brilliant and brilliantly musical, but they're very different and I momentarily loved that they knew each other.
"Actually, we don't," said Joe Broughton . "They were asked at the last minute by Pull up the Roots because Dave Delarre dropped out. But they sound good... we heard them at the sound check."
I hung around a bit upstairs, marvelling at the way a couple of pints can go to your head if you drink them before dinner, and heard stories about The UFQ's recent trip to Estonia. Apparently it was minus 20 degrees and their luggage went missing as they passed through Schipol airport, so Joe and Paloma didn't have any warm clothes to wear. Tom did. He'd evidently been to Schipol before and had worn all his.
"We should have known really. We had to run for the connection. Still, we had this Seat Alhambra fertility wagon to drive around in." So if any of them gets pregnant we'll know they've been sitting on the bonnet.
Apart from the loss of the all-important clothing, which was returned in time to make the journey home with them, the trip was also memorable, they swore, for an evening of vodka that involved a Mahavishnu Orchestra tribute band. I nodded as if I believed them and decided that exposure can play tricks on the mind.
Downstairs in the magnificent venue with the red pentangle on the wall - American Werewolf in London stylee - Josienne was singing a song about being awkward. "I'm a strange girl, An adorable fool, Full to the brim with nothing you need. I'm just too much, But somehow not enough," she sang. And I believed her.
She has this voice that's like a precision tool for making golden, ringing shapes in the air and, in my humble opinion, Ben and Josie deserve huge success. Huge. It's as if they pull in all the energy in the room, concentrate it in some kind of musical alchemy and then spin it into shimmering cathedrals of sound. How's this for original songwriting?
I can imagine Emmylou Harris or Nanci Griffiths singing that. Perhaps they will?
Anyhow, shortly afterwards The Urban Folk Quartet rocked as usual and just before they played their final encore - Cajun Bean Curd, for what it's worth - Frank Moon made a rather good and understated joke. "This song has a subtext about arts funding," he said. "Take it away..."
Ta da! :-)
As an aside, I got in touch with Dave Delarre on Twitter when I got home and asked whether he was OK? "Yes thanks. Just got held up at a guitar workshop in Cambridge and couldn't get to London in time," he tweeted back. "They're much better than me anyway!"
Everyone's so modest. It's just as well I'm here to be nice about them really...
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