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The Secret Sisters - Union Chapel, London (06/11/17)

Secret Sisters flowers.jpg

There is a saying that 'absence makes the heart grow fonder'. This was definitely the case at another of the London Folk & Roots festival's showcase events at the fabulous Union Chapel on Monday night. This time is was the turn of the marvelous Alabama sister duo Lydia and Laura Rogers better known as The Secret Sisters. They are famous for their trademark stunning lush harmonies and songwriting, often compared to a modern female version of The Everly Brothers. They are charming, instantly likable, funny and entertaining as well as being great musicians in their own right. After a couple of years away from performing in London and experiencing a really tough time at home, they made a triumphant and very special return. They described the Union Chapel as 'their favourite venue to play in the world', their delight, excitement and shear enjoyment at being back was clearly evident throughout the night. 

First up to set up the night perfectly was Martin Longstaff, a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter from Sunderland. Playing solo this time Martin often performs with his band as the wonderfully named 'The Lake Poets'. Always a high quality performer Martin's music has been described as "quietly devastating. accomplished & intelligent. spellbinding & heart-breaking’'. He is also a primary school teacher and his personal experiences from his home town often provide the basis for his songs, including the hard hitting and tender 'Black & Blue' about domestic violence. Martin's set comprised a super selection of great songs including some from his 2015 self titled debut album including 'To The Lighthouse', the very personal 'North View' and one of my favourites and his best selling song 'Your Face'.

After a short break it was time for the Secret Sisters to join the party. With their opening word's "Hello beautiful London!' they instantly engaged their very appreciative and warm audience. We were informed very early on "If you came in a good mood, please don't hold onto that". Often in the Union Chapel less is most definitely more. Lydia and Laura's set was stripped and pure with just a single acoustic guitar and twin vocals. Perfect for the venue and also for the occasion. 

Bathed in warm yellow light and vapour smoke, which they commented reminded them of a swamp, they started with the lush and crisp 'Tennennesse River Runs Low', the opening track to their recently released crowd funded album 'You Don't Own Me Anymore'. It had a wonderful a capella intro before a lovely build into the song’s driving rhythm and a retro 50's doo-woop feel.

After explaining the many perils of being brought up in a bluegrass family, the sisters expertly covered 'The One I Love Is Gone' from the father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe. Clearing enjoying their time in London and explaining how they planned to kidnap one of the Queen's swan from Hyde taping up it's little break and stuffing it in their suitcase. (I didn't have the heart to tell about the Pelican's in Green Park). This lead into thoughts of sibling murder using the same modus operadi, a beautifully segue into the atmospheric murder ballad 'Mississippi'. We were informed before they started "that all the characters in this song die in the end, so you shouldn't become too emotionally attached to them".

The excellent Brandi Carlile produced the sisters third album and the next song was the very catchy and retro 'Black & Blue', a marvellous co-write with her. SImon & Garfunkel's wonderful 'Kathy's Song' provided some funny and playful stage banter between the two sisters who argued who would play the part of Paul or Art. "I'm shorter so I should play Art. I'm the one with the guitar so that settles it........" The sister covered this classic with their usual aplomb.

The sisters have worked with some greats in the industry including T-Bone Burnett who produced their second album. After touring with Bob Dylan, he sent them some demos to collaborate on. Their favourite one (and mine too) was the steamy and sultry 'Dirty Lie'. Full of blues and jazzy tones

Laura briefly took over guitar duties for their first single the beautiful 'Tennessee Me', written about lost love and heartbreak. 

Often compared to the Everly Brothers it was great to see them cover one of their songs 'Let It Be Me'. It had special significance as Lydia walked down the aisle to it when she was getting married. Their very Southern mother, passive aggressive family members and deep impulses were covered in the personal and intense 'Bad Habit', another tale of lost love and the darker side of emotions.

Considering what the sisters have been through over the past couple of years including being dropped by their record company and facing legal action and bankruptcy, very fittingly their new album's title track was the very defiant 'You Don't Own Me'.

'He's Fine' their first radio single was up next. It was the last song Laura she wrote before she was (happily) married, about her previous boyfriend. Spolier alert: It doesn't end well. 

Some goose-bump moments in the traditional gospel number 'Flee As A Bird' which worked perfectly with the Chapel's acoustics, followed by a capella version of 'You Belong To Me', returning to the retro feel of their opening song and providing a perfect symmetry to their superb set.

A very well deserved standing ovation followed.

It's only when you hear Lydia and Laura live that you really appreciate how good their blood harmonies are coupled with some great story-telling and songwriting. The sister's will be back in the UK in the spring as part of the Transatlantic sessions, with their own headline tour promised later in the year. If you haven't seen them before, please take the opportunity to go to the gig. You won't be disappointed. Highly recommended.

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