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Edgelarks - The Sound Lounge, Tooting (02/11/17)

'Edgelarks' - Album Launch

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To paraphrase a line in William's Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliette "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet". This would certain apply to 'Edgelarks', the new band name of Radio 2 2014 Folk award winning duo Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin. Not only have they decided to change and simplify their duo name, but they have also chosen to release new a 'watershed' album of the same name. Last night marked their London launch at the very popular community music venue The Sound Lounge in Tooting, South West London. I always think that album launches are very special gigs and this one was no exception. Their new name 'Edgelarks' carries the idea of 'singing about or from the margins'. It's an album about transitional spaces, liminal places, people and times, the straddling of boundaries and thresholds, crossroads and borderlands, travelers and refugees, dusk and dawn. 'Edgelarks' is an album with the same very high quality musicianship, production and songwriting that you would expect from one of the best live Folk duos in the UK.

Phil and Hannah were joined on the night by a musician who played a very important role in co-producing and bringing the album together, John Elliot aka the excellent 'The Little Unsaid'.  This multi-instrumentalist also played drums, percussion, piano, Moog synth and harmonium on the album. Completing the high quality ensemble of musicians on the album were Lukas Drinkwater on Electric Bass/Double Bass and Niall Robinson on Tabla. 

John opened the evening with a great selection of music from his now vast and wonderful back catalogue. It was a rare solo gig for John, as he normally plays with his band. We were treated to a masterclass in musicianship and looping as John layered his instruments and vocals to form a rich and sweeping soundscape. Opening the set was 'Hunger' taken from his 2014 EP 'A Filthy Hunger'. I make no secret of the fact that I love John's music and his latest album Imagined Hymns & Chaingang Matras, is one of my favourite releases this year. It's fresh, vibrant, powerful and elegantly crafted. One of it's two title tracks followed 'Imagined Hymns' an atmospheric track with John vocals floating over soft finger-picked acoustic guitar.  'Dig' wass full of intensity. Demonstrating the full emotional weight John's music can carry. Again beautifully written 'Everyday I wake into this miracle I find. Your accident of cells somehow exploding next to mine. How we dance through the seasons now. How we gently ebb and flow and some days how we ride, the frenzied tides on which we're thrown.......to the moment we fall from the moment we first rise. We've got to dig the happiness from our own landfill lives.' The newest song in the set was the alternative themed love song 'Sweet Kind Of Hurt'. The deep and reflective 'Get On The Other Side Of That Door' continued a personal and rich look at life and working your way through the many problems of modern living. "Sirens out there howling loud, midnight in London Town. I stand here naked now in your headlight eyes. I was weary of the tail chase. Hunting down my mistakes.......We live the fantasy of living free". This wonderful set ended with a piano ballad 'Day is Golden'. It's a look into John's inner deep feeling, struggles and demons. It's one of the most honest and personal songs I've heard in awhile.  "I have no home, but the day is golden, The sun is up but I have seldom felt colder. It's fine being alive some days.....I am hanging by a thread, my friend, today" 

After a short break, Phil and Hannah were welcomed to the stage to perform a fantastic set of both songs from the new 'Edgelarks' album and some older audience favourites including Silbury Hill, Lamps Trimmed & Burning and The Nailmaker's Strike.

The set began with the first single from the album the very powerful 'No Victory', which we featured recently as one of our LCM songs of the day. The tender and personal 'Undelivered' stretches itself out over seven-minutes, a story inspired by a cache of seventeenth-century letters discovered in the Netherlands played out over gently plucked strings. It is a telling and wonderful example of music’s ability to humanise and personalise history. Taken from their excellent 2013 'Mynd' album 'Silbury Hill' is always a live favourite, with it's combination of banjo and dobro. The song is about Silbury Hill, a prehistoric artificial chalk mound near Avebury. The unusual habits of Californian Bush Jay is the subject of the next song 'Song Of The Jay'. The bird has be observed to hold 'funerals' for other birds, regardless of their species. The song is clever extended metaphor for inclusivity and acceptance.  It also features the chaturangui, tabla and acoustic guitar.

Inspired by a trip to Tasmania where they saw a sign saying Paradise (15 Miles) - No Where Else (5 miles). 'Signposts' deals with homesickness and the power of music to console and to bring people together. It also showcases Hannah's deft, melancholy fiddle playing, with Phil adding his skillful acoustic guitar and harmonica playing. 

The film the 'Big Short' was made around the 2008 banking crash. The film saw Brad Pitt in one scene at Phil and Hannah's local pub in Exmouth. 'Caravans' acts as a kind of creation myth for the band, and on another level offers a sage manifesto for living in harmony and alongside and with the natural world. The song saw John join the duo on keys with Phil on slide guitar + stomp box and Hannah on Shurti and lead vocals.

This segued perfectly into a Cornish language song 'Estren' which means 'Strangers'. Its story tells of a travelling stranger with something of a reputation as a ladies’ man. But despite its age-old themes, it carries great relevance to the modern world where intolerance and fear of the foreigner still hold sway.In 'Iceberg' Phil's beat-box & harmonica playing cleverly underpins a thoughtful exploration of human coldness. 'What's The Life Of A Man' is a traditional piece which reminds us of our insignificance in the grander scheme of nature. It directs us to find acceptance and comfort in our fate. The treatment of women at the frighteningly named Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre is explored in 'Yarl's Wood'. The song was first written and performed as part of the very popular 'Shake The Chain's' project. Hannah was part of this very popular ensemble brought together by Greg Russell.

Always a very popular favourite is the song of hope, the traditional gospel blues song 'Lamps Trimmed & Burning' First made famous by Blind Willy Johnson in 1928. It alludes to the Bible parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. It's is always a joy to watch live with Phil on harmonica and beatbox plus stomp box. A marvel in co-ordination and skill. Also taken from their Mynd album was the very popular and high energy 'The Nailmaker's Strike'. It's a firm staple of their live set with its audience participation call and response. For their well deserved encore they fittingly chose the last song on the new Edgelarks album 'The Good Earth' with Phil on his chaturangui and Hannah on her acoustic guitar.

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