On the gig swing-o-meter, ‘Monday – Royal Albert Hall; Wednesday – Leytonstone Ex-Serviceman’s Club’ may take some beating. Jackson Browne’s tenth and triumphant return to the Kensington landmark may still be ringing in my ears, but the beauty of writing for Folk Radio UK is that it takes me off-grid to various oases of roots music in and around England’s capital. On a damp and misty evening – where did the Autumn go? –I head north to Leytonstone, birthplace of, amongst others, Alfred Hitchcock and Damon Albarn. The former would have delighted in the weather, no doubt using its Stygian gloom to design a suitably horrid ending for someone. No such worries for me however, the Serviceman’s Club playing host to the highly successful and congenial What’s Cookin’ promotion, a regular evening of Country Fried Folk n’ Roll that’s been propping up various bars in London since 2004. In that time What’s Cookin’ has hosted the great and good and accumulated plaudits from its peers in the press and radio. I’m here to see Reid Jamieson and his wife, Carolyn Victoria Mill, touring the UK for the first time to promote new album Juniper’s Kitchen and reviewed on Folk Radio here.
I’m fortunate to bump into Carolyn in Leytonstone’s Red Lion before her and Reid sound-check. It’s their final gig of the tour and they head back to Vancouver next week, so there’s some excitement mixed with relief and no doubt some tiredness, but you wouldn’t know it; Carolyn is as bubbly in person as her voice is velvet smooth on record. I’m given an update on their whirlwind visit; the tour’s been very successful, they’ve had lots of fun and the reception has been great. On a deeper note, Carolyn has met some of her family for the first time – she was born in Sunderland – and the trip has taken a profoundly emotional turn for her. They’ll have just 40 minutes to persuade the crowd that a trip of 4700 miles was one worth taking, but I suspect Carolyn has the weight of many years family history to accommodate too.
They start with Drive. Their harmonies are instantly in place on this, their ode to ‘..the sat-nav lady’. It’s slightly slower than on the album, Reid turned towards Carolyn and coaxing sounds from his guitar, swaying gently as his weight transfers from foot to foot, completely immersed in the melody. Carolyn uses her hands to frame her expressive vocal, addressing the crowd with a practised smile. She introduces the songs with a mixture of background and story. Words With You is an affectionate admission that married couples travelling the world together for their job aren’t always in sync. Take Me To The Sea – ‘Here’s a song about cremation, ‘cos there’s not enough of those!’ transfers well from the record, the upbeat country shuffle about seeing death in an optimistic light raising the first whoop! from the audience as their counterpoint harmony draws the song to an end.
Carolyn excuses herself for Fall, a personal favourite and a beautiful ballad. It’s another opportunity to wallow in his voice as it demands a little more of him without his wife’s assistance. It’s a song that tips its hat to the 50s duets and I can’t help but think of My Darling Clementine when I hear it; it’s wonderfully executed. Despite not having much time, Carolyn returns to dedicate the next song to her mother, who, she says, is convinced it’s about her. It’s going to be difficult to confirm that unless anyone knows Leonard Cohen, but their version of Suzanne is glorious anyway. Not Making History, a clever and honest lyric written when celebrating Reid’s 40th birthday, is all about the realities of making it in music and the fight to continue doing what it is that excites you, regardless of how tough that might sometimes be. That level of awareness is indicative in a lot of their music – you understand just how much they care about it and what a privilege they think it is to be able to write and perform it for others. They finish with an emotionally charged This Much I Know, the stately waltz an open love letter to each other and, on this particular night, clearly aimed at Carolyn’s expanded family. It turns out the mileage is immaterial; when something’s worth doing, halfway around the world is a small step and Leytonstone may not be Kensington, but you get the impression that for Reid and Carolyn, it may just find a place in their list of go-to memories.
Gig: What’s Cookin’ – Leytonstone Ex-Serviceman’s Club, November 26
Review by: Paul Woodgate