Eliza Carthy and Jim Moray’s Wayward Tour, in which the pair celebrate 21 and ten years in music respectively, has been a resounding success. Reviews have been consistently positive, and venues such London’s Union Chapel have been packed out. So, with the majority of the hard work done with, and a surprisingly sparsely populated venue to entertain, how would the Wayward Band perform?
Moray is in relaxed form, opening with what he jokingly describes as “an early piece of UKIP propaganda”. His acoustic version of Gypsies (of the ‘raggle taggle’ fame, from 2003’s Sweet England album) is accompanied by avant garde, startlingly loud trumpet from the smartly attired Nick Malcolm. There’s not a hint of tour fatigue; instead it feels fresh and vibrant – like something Moray and the prodigiously talented trumpeter might have improvised backstage.
When the full band joins him, it’s evident that the musical chemistry already evident at the rehearsal stage (see video, below) has blossomed further. Willy Molleson’s whipcracking drums drive a mighty, loud version of William Taylor, which prompts much ‘rock’ posturing from string trio Sam Sweeney, Lucy Farrell and Beth Porter. Similarly epic is Leaving Australia, which seems to revel in the space it is given, Laurence Hunt’s introductory percussion combining with David Delarre’s spiky acoustic guitar before the song balloons into its grand, punchy main section.
Lucy Farrell comes to the front to duet with Moray on ‘broken token ballad’ Jenny of the Moor. A knockabout introduction reimagines the song as a story of a boyfriend gone on tour, which seems flippant, but does highlight the relevance of the traditional song. Farrell plays the part of ‘Jenny’ with sweet aplomb, and sticks around to back Moray on a beautiful run-through of Child ballad Lord Douglas. Moray’s guitar playing is wonderful here; he confidently adds jazzy, lyrical runs to the elegantly paced piece.
The triumphant, anthemic Seven Long Years is made for a large band like this, and the rousing nature of the arrangement seems to inspire Moray’s confident singing, while the string trio-accompanied outro is a nice touch, too. As are the pirate eyepatches that the band sneak on when playing Moray’s finale, his jolly take on XTC’s All You Pretty Girls. Not wanting him to feel left out, Eliza Carthy mischievously dances on to the stage and decorates Moray with one of his own. The result is a performance that’s at least 10 per cent more hearty.
After the interval, Carthy repeats Moray’s trick of opening with just one accompanist. Trusty lieutenant Saul Rose provides a quiet melodeon backdrop to the mournful, beautifully sung I Wish That the Wars Were All Over. In just one short song she establishes (or re-establishes, for those who’ve seen her before) her commanding stage presence; imaginative, dextrous fiddle playing; and soulful, passionate singing voice.
And, of course, we already know the band is great. So what follows may not be a surprise – but it is completely thrilling. The sound and energy builds with a jolly version of Cold, Wet & Rainy Night, before a stately Turpin Hero, about a “scumbag chicken killer”, we’re told.
Carthy is quick to play tribute to her family. We get a lyrical, substantial performance of (auntie) Lal Waterson’s Child Among The Weeds, the “calypso therapy” of the magnificent Mr Walker, learned from Eliza’s mum, Norma Waterson, and the classy, piano-led salsa of Grey Gallito, which she learned from dad Martin Carthy, and then translated into Spanish “so he couldn’t take it back again”. Best of all, though, is Jack Frost, by (uncle) Mike Waterson. His expert, icy lyric is complemented by spidery guitar from Delarre, precise fiddle playing from Carthy and a perfectly pitched chorus from the string-singers. Among all the energy and passion, it brings a rare chill to a warm June evening.
The eyepatches make a return for Rolling Sea, which gets a shimmering, sensual treatment, along with another of those free-form trumpet solos. The band is once again on great form for Gallant Hussar, the happy story of which is reflected in a gigantic, joyous performance that’s given weight by Yen-Yen Toulouse’s mighty trombone. By the time Carthy finally gets round to one of her own songs – the riotous, sealife-themed Great Grey Back – we are in full party mode, shiny hats and party poppers included.
Moray’s gorgeous Gibson kicks off an irresistible finale of Willow Tree, and there’s thankfully time for an encore – the full-on, frenzied Cobbler’s Hornpipe, with Carthy dancing about at the centre of a joyful musical whirlwind, thrilling in the moment. Everyone – whether in the crowd or on the stage – is left with a huge, silly smile. Let’s hope it’s not too long until another significant anniversary comes around, so we can all do this again. Please?