‘When shall we three meet again?’ In the case of The Coven, being a collaboration between esteemed folk and roots performers O’Hooley and Tidow, Grace Petrie and Lady Maisery, it was Friday night in a cold damp Sheffield.
The reason for such an unholy alliance? International Women’s Day. And to celebrate the achievements of women around the world, The Coven are embarked on a tour, bringing their warmth, wit and wonder to a venue near you.
All artists shared the same stage, and performed a mixture of individual songs and collaborations with the others. And what a treat it was.
First up was Grace Petrie, a small bundle of energy, anger, and sheer humanity. Kicking off with the overtly political Farewell to Welfare, she set the tone for her first set. Fast paced, rapid fire strumming, deft words and a very human perspective. This was not simple sloganeering, but instead a set of well crafted, passionate and articulate songs. Whether rushing from Glastonbury to greet her newborn niece, singing of the Spanish Civil War, or speaking universal truths, using the vehicle of her own perceived weaknesses, she sang her songs and engaged with us all with a natural warmth and humour. As she says in They Shall Not Pass, It’s not a call to arms, it’s a call for helping hands. Protest songs are alive and well and resonating the walls of Sheffield tonight.
Next up, O’Hooley and Tidow. I have to declare an interest, as I live just down the road from them, and have known them for many years. Even after all this time, they retain the ability to surprise and delight me. They started their mini-set with the title track from their magnificent album ‘The Hum’. O’Hooley and Tidow sang of the hope that comes from working mills in their valley, whilst weaving a rich patterned cloth from melody, harmony and story. Two Mothers, set to an old Irish tune, reduced me to a weeping wreck, and not for the first time. Their craft is to take simple stories, and use them to tell universal truths. A deceptively difficult task, and one that is, for me, the beating heart of folk music.
Lady Maisery are one of the best folk groups out there at the moment. Funny, engaging and supremely melodic, all three of them are ridiculously talented in their own right, but when you add them together, you get something very special indeed. Harmonies you couldn’t slide a razor blade between and instrumental prowess a plenty. Fiddle, accordion and harp blending every bit as closely as the three voices. More ‘trad’ than either Grace or O’Hooley and Tidow, Lady Maisery are not afraid to take risks, adding Todd Rundgren’s ‘Honest Work’ to a set that included Katy Cruel, Leon Rosselson’s powerful ‘Palaces of Gold’ and Kate Bush’s ‘This Woman’s Work’. There was palpable surprise of an audience, seemingly here to catch Belinda and Heidi, for whom Lady Maisery were a very pleasantly surprising package.
And then there were the collaborations! All participants coming together to add even more to each other’s work. All three acts different, but all complementing and collaborating with each other. Powerful, funny, moving, angry, self-deprecating, melodic and just very, very good.
If you get a chance to catch them anywhere, I strongly recommend it.
Review by: Mark Whyatt