Fish & Bird’s fourth album Something In The Ether was released last year. Folk Radio called it a ‘rollercoaster’, and attempted to apply a new genre to it; progressive-folk. What was immediately obvious about its barely half-an-hour length was the audacious and off-piste invention. Across nine tracks a melting pot of influences are enhanced with an unfettered creativity born in the boundary-less environment of their native Canada and a willingness to experiment. The songs are seamless little nuggets of found gold and they shine amidst the often formulaic structures of their peers. The complexity that appears inherent in the multiple key and time changes is one facet of what makes this, Fish & Bird’s first UK gig, so fascinating; outside the studio walls, can the magic be sustained?
The first issue to overcome is the Green Note’s it’s-a-small-world-after-all stage. Drums, double-bass, two guitars, fiddle and five Canadians. It’s what London estate agents call bijou. Once in place, however, the enthusiasm for the task ahead is clear and as no-one drops to their knees and slides Angus Young-like across the floor during a solo, an Ealing farce is avoided. They open with mid-tempo number Plot. The sound is, as usual, excellent (kudos once again to Green Note’s soundman, Oscar). Taylor’s voice is a low burr that rides underneath a straining fiddle and tom percussion. ..Ether’s The Lake follows and then the title track, on which Adam’s fiddle provides strident rhythmic pulses that pull the song along. Each song in turn is warmer and looser and the band visibly relaxes after appreciative responses from another busy Green Note crowd.
It all clicks on Crazy Dream, a track from their 2011 album, Every Whisper Is A Shout Across The Void. As if a shot of WD40 has kicked in, Fish & Bird start to swing. Winnipeg’s woozy, early AM sunrise mood is almost jazzy and breaks into their now familiar staccato rhythms. Spot on backing vocals, a highlight of the whole show, tempo adjustments and Zoe’s double-bass thrum layer a rich melody over which Taylor’s voice soars and swoops like a swallow. It ends in a meandering bass and drum workout that moves through funk and reggae stylings. It could all be so messy and it can take time to absorb, but live it’s exciting, fresh and terrifically well delivered. Mark My Grave’s murder-ballad vocals and a fantastic cover of Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes finish a first set curtailed as a result of minor equipment issues.
They return to the stage after twenty minutes with Well Run Dry. Now fully in the groove, Taylor talks at length between songs about the difference in distances between Canada and the UK, how a 32-hour drive for a gig isn’t unknown. The gestation of songs is explored, which provides background to Rivers and Or Was It A Sign?, the latter a thought-piece on our place in the universe and its relation to our search for love, delivered note-for-perfect note. The joy on stage is palpable. Adam plays fiddle with a permanent half-smile and the occasional look at Ryan, whose heavy-lidded eyes mask his concentration, his head nodding in satisfaction at a particular riff or lick. Ben drums as if he hit the caffeine early, body tense. He looks like he wants to jump up from behind the kit and hit every surface in the room. Zoe stands beside him, offers beautiful harmony vocals and bounces like Tigger in the up-tempo grooves, her hands a blur across the instrument’s body. Together, they move and sway like reeds in a tide, as structurally different as their songs yet together at all times.
Lonely Resonator is introduced as the song Taylor wrote instead of seeing Richard Thompson live. It’s a brilliant song and a highlight of a set that is met with increased whoops and hollers. Effigy is powerful and Lost drives them towards the finish line. They close with Go To Bed Light, the last song on ..Ether and a slow, delicate paean to the inevitability of time. The encore is Boxes and Bottles, complete with BBC Radiophonic sounds courtesy of Adam’s large pedal board, the fiddle player kneeling down and twiddling knobs DJ fashion. It’s a typically unusual ending for an untypical band in every sense but one; their beautiful, brilliant music and joyful enthusiasm for it. Catch this tour while you can.
Review by: Paul Woodgate
15 – Grayshott Social Club, Surrey,
16 – Plough Arts Centre, Great Torrington,
17 – Square & Compass, Swanage,
18 – The Canteen, Bristol,
19 – The Bell Inn, Bath,
20 – The Bicycle Shop, Norwich,
21 – The Courthouse, Otley,
22 – Blue Sky Cafe, Bangor,
23 – SEAMUS ENNIS CENTRE, Naul, Ireland
24 – Celtic Connections Festival w/ Sorren Maclean, Glasgow,