Continuing our live review of the Big Whistle Festival, an annual event at Bury’s acclaimed Met Theatre and arts centre Michael managed to catch a great performance by Rachel Sermanni…
Down in the Studio, was Scots singer songwriter Rachel Sermanni, who had last been in these parts during the Sunday afternoon downpour at the 2012 Ramsbottom Festival. Back then, not only did she have to contend with the elements armed with only her gentle voice and an acoustic guitar, but also the superfluous noise from a boisterous Ladybird stage tent. Despite some the odd overspill of clattering from a busy afternoon in the Automatic bar and kitchen right next door, the confines of The Met studio were a much more suitable environment for her introspective material and she was rewarded with a full house with the ‘sold out’ notices being posted online several days before.
It was her first gig in a while and she admitted “I’ve definitely been shaking more.” With a new-ish album to promote (Under Mountains was released back in September. Review & Live FRUK Session here) and again equipped with just acoustic guitar and bathed in deep red light (the photographers blight) she opened with a batch of songs in her usual style of gently picked notes and a delicate vocal. Shyly avoiding any in-between song chit chat she let the opening songs speak for themselves, her only concession being a few words about her need not so much for a whistle so she could truly feel a part of the Big Whistle event, but a more pressing need for a hairbrush. She also happened to mention her tram journey from Manchester to Bury and the unusual names she encountered at various stops – “Crumpsall?” she asked – apparently meaning a crooked piece of land beside the river which she had studiously googled during the journey, possibly missing the more bewildering Besses O’The Barn stop on the way. Local geography aside, she started to vary between gentle picking and some more percussive based rhythmic chops, supported by some twiddling on the knobs at the sound desk, and her voice, whilst breathy yet with the odd waver was able to take off and soar.
Her self proclaimed funny song, she calls it her burger van song – a more up-tempo number, preceded what was perhaps the highlight of the set. Ae Fond Kiss is a song written by her fellow Scot Robert Burns, its beauty and impeccable performance belying the circumstances under which it was written. Like many folk songs, its origin is of the less salubrious nature which was in total contrast to the performance. Suffice to say that you could hear a pin drop. Although it would be a shameless plug, the song is available to buy on Rachel’s website with profits from the sale going to the Nordoff Robbins Tartan Clef music therapy charity.
Shy, unpretentious and unassuming, she even offered an apology for finishing with two quiet songs before audience members could make their way back to the main theatre for their next fix of whistle.
Folk Radio UK ‘Under Mountains’ Session: Rachel Sermanni