This house gig proved to be something a bit special, it was set in a large open planned room overlooking a lake upon which were some rare looking wildfowl, a fairly substantial pastime of our wonderful hosts John and Tricia. Behind the room we were in was an egg incubation area which proved to be quite a distraction for one of the duo playing that night after they heard the eggs were due to hatch at any moment.
There were around thirty-five people in attendance, a full-house for the size of the room albeit a rare one as all present were there to see the BBC Folk Award winners for best duo Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin. I dare say the chances of experiencing this again in such an intimate setting are going to be slim.
With everyone fed and drinks in hand Phillip and Henry took up position for what was to be unforgettable evening. I’d seen them perform several times before, the first at Priddy Folk Festival. As the night wore on the biggest thing that struck me was how the standard of their performance had flown off the scale. Nothing was overdone, quite the opposite, they appeared incredibly relaxed and there’s a beautiful chemistry between them that just draws the audience in.
There were as many highlights as there were laughs, Phillip’s harmonica playing was one which mesmerised many especially during his solo performances. He has taken a leaf out of the book of one of his blues heroes – Sonny Terry. Sonny was was well known for his Shoutin Blues which Phillip pays tribute to on I Wanna Boogie in which he also plays the harmonica inside his mouth…I’m not sure the gasp from the audience was one of surprise or in fear of him swallowing it.
He also possessed a minor key harmonica which he had lowered the key even further with the aid of a soldering iron to mimic a melodeon. The effect was stunningly realistic, they certainly knew how to deliver variety and sustain audience attention.
As well as surprising the audience these brief solo harmonica interludes allowed Hannah to sneak off into the back room to check on whether any eggs were yet hatching. Unfortunately no ducklings made an appearance during their set, much to Hannah’s disappointment.
Together they are exceptional musicians at the height of their game and the combination of dobro and fiddle or banjo could not be better…but then I did think that last time I saw them ad they’ve just got better. They amalgamate a host of styles from Folk to Indian Ragas to Dub and reggae as they demonstrated on The Nailmaker’s Strike which everyone joined in on. By the end of the song the audience participation was in full strength bringing smiles from the duo who had clearly worked their magic spell upon all present.
One of the most moving songs of the night was The Painter, a song that Hannah wrote based on stories she told had been told about her Grandfather who was a painter. He had many inventive ways of keeping peoples spirits up some of which are revealed in the song. He lived Bielefeld, Germany, during WWII and was killed in a bombing raid.
Songs ventured from the Industrial north to the deep American South with Thirty Miles a song inspired by one of Phillip’s favourite books by Toni Morrison – Beloved:
It’s often the storytelling element of folk music that draws people towards folk music and they have great stories both in their songs and in between them. Hannah revealed, holding a glass of red wine that they never used to drink during performances but after seeing The Gloaming during which all nurse a drink including Thomas Bartlett (aka Doveman) who clearly made an impression on Hannah as he played piano one handed with a glass of wine in the other. This led to a funny story about their long road trip to Germany to play in a bar…as their tiring journey grew to a close the expectations of some fine German beer became all the more enticing for them to only find that the barman was English lager fan…
The evening came to a close in the form of James Taylor’s Close Your Eyes which had those behind me swooning in memories of their student days and The boy that wouldn’t hoe corn in which fiddle and dobro play a wild dance that tore everyone along for the ride.
The whole night was one of fantastic variety, everything you want from a duo…they have it.
The good news is that they are recording a live album this weekend which you’ll be able to buy at gigs of which they are playing heaps over the summer as well as appearing at many festivals including Glastonbury, Priddy Folk Festival and Sidmouth Folk Week.
Check their dates here: http://www.philliphenryandhannahmartin.co.uk/shows.php