The group – Hannah James, Rowan Rheingans and Hazel Askew – are primarily known for their harmony singing, but all are accomplished multi-instrumentalists too. Rheingans’ economical fidola playing, for example, accompanies opener Portland Town. The song makes a powerful opening statement: bitter words, sweetly sung.
Of course, sometimes there aren’t any words. The group quickly move on to a set of Scandinavian diddles. The sung tunes illustrate the trio’s musical understanding with startling clarity – singing songs with such subtle, pretty harmony is tricky enough, but the trio enunciate each ‘diddle’, ‘iddle’ and ‘daddy’ with amazing precision and synchronicity. It’s not that this isn’t evident on the recorded versions of the tunes – but seeing and hearing it live is quite something else.
It’s the same with some of the more traditional songs from their debut album, Weave & Spin. A joyful Capable Wife and the fragile Colour of Amber are particular highlights, with Askew’s harp providing an appropriately gentle accompaniment.
Elsewhere, James plays accordion and leads the audience with her effective clog percussion on an English Morris tune, Askew adds concertina and leg-mounted bells, and Rheingans rolls out both banjo and bansitar – an unusual instrument which, she laments, no longer has its own Wikipedia page. The eccentric hybrid adds a pleasingly clanging, psychedelic tone to Nottamun Fair (have a look at the video below to see them doing it at Beverley last year).
Lady M have a new album out in May, and the group delight in singing a selection of new material. This includes a winning version of Sydney Carter’s The Crow on the Cradle – a sinister welcome to the world for a newborn – and a solemn take on Leon Rosselson’s poignant Palaces of Gold. There’s also a beautiful Let No Man Steal Your Thyme – a familiar song that nonetheless feels somehow like it was written for this group. On album two, there will not be an equivalent to Weave & Spin’s whimsical Mary Ann, one suspects.
A Kate Bush cover is an unexpected (but again, wholly appropriate) treat, as is a magical song about skin-shedding selkies, before the night is rounded off by the calm and assured Sleep on Beloved. It’s a lovely way to end, but, excitingly, it’s the new stuff that’s ringing in my ears on the way home. On this evidence, Lady Maisery’s second album could be something really special.