Review Folk Circle with Reg Meuross, Lori Watson, and Kim Richards at Celtic Connections 25th Jan by Bob Leslie
A masterclass in both songwriting and performance, this gig was pure musical pleasure.
Somerset’s Reg Meuross, as the headliner, faced a lot of expectation, and more than lived up to it. The only one of the three main performers to rely entirely on his own material, he obviously had what was potentially an uphill climb. His perfect combination of lyrics, melodies, and presentation instead made it an easy country stroll for this experienced artist.
His relaxed approach, fine guitar-picking, and easy manner with both the public and his fellow musicians were winners in themselves, but the sheer quality of his songs is what shone out for me.
Reg’s combination of powerful lyrics with a strong melodic sensibility is one that forces the question: why is he not better recognised by the world outside of the traditional circuit?
Of the selection, my stick-out favourites were his opener about Dick Turpin – in which the fine figure the highwayman cuts both in life and death is examined with both affection and irony, Leaving Alabama – a fictional account of a lengthy drinking bout between Hank Williams and Dylan Thomas, and the heartbreaking The Band Played Sweet Marie – referencing the bandleader on the Titanic, the fiddle given him by his lover, and her conviction that their last song was played for her. Splendid stuff, and not a dry eye in the house for that last one.
Doctor Lori Watson brought a depth of traditional song knowledge one would expect from a lecturer in Scottish Ethnology to her songs. Ally that to a warm, confident stage presence, and the voice of an angel, and it’s no surprise her portion of the show was an absolute joy to listen to.
Most of the material she offered was from her last album Yarrow Acoustic Sessions, and I was really pleased to hear her do my favourite song from that: The Dowie Dens of Yarrow. Her accompanists, Jenn Austen on keyboard and Chas Mackenzie on guitars, provided a sensitive backing that never overwhelmed and always complemented her singing. I was particularly impressed by Chas’s use of a volume pedal on his Fender Stratocaster to produce an eerie, evocative, and totally appropriate underpinning of Dowie Dens that had Reg Meuross remarking that if he’d heard it in a wee cottage in the country, in the dead of night, he’d have found it positively unnerving!
Kim Richards, from Ullapool, must have been doing one of her last gigs before the imminent birth of her daughter (I believe I heard the name “Ingrid” mentioned for the very-soon-to-arrive offspring).
She didn’t let that hold her back though, her performance was a real gem. Kim has a lovely vocal delivery, and friends Mairearad Green (vocal & accordeon) and Mike Vass (vocal, guitar, and fiddle) provided an extremely sympathetic backing. I have to single out their marvellous blend of vocal harmonies as one of the high spots of the night.
The song that showed off the harmonies most was their superb arrangement of David Francey’s Saints and Sinners. Even more so than the original, this version made you realise exactly what a great song it is. Another one that really grabbed me was Kim’s own When the Leaves Grow – an interlacing of the passage of both love and the seasons. That’s from her CD Leaves that Fly, which has received rave reviews – well worth splashing out on!
All three singers maintained a warm rapport with each other and with the audience during an evening that was, as must be evident, sheer pleasure.
One final treat was the sound of the musicians onstage and the audience combining in a mightily harmonious rendition of Wild Mountain Thyme – as Reg remarked, “We picked this one because the Englishman knows it!” Seems every singer in the audience knew it too! Good choice!