Nancy Kerr & James Fagan: Cecil Sharp House, September 29 2012

So I’ve become a ‘social sharer’ for the EFDSS. It’s a new initiative, but it’s a fairly simple concept: basically I will be attending a few gigs at Cecil Sharp House, live-tweeting them and writing about my experiences. In return, I get the gig tickets, free tea and cake and some issues of Songlines magazine to peruse. Which seems like a pretty good deal.

Tea and cake. What’s not to like? Photo: Dan Richards

I’m very grateful for the opportunity – and naturally disinclined to bite the hand that feeds me free cake – but EFDSS marketing and communications boss Sophia assures me I have no need to be obsequious. So, free of bias, my friend Dan and I headed off to Camden, where the bright harvest moon lit our path to Cecil Sharp House. Dan’s not a big folkie, so was interested to pay a visit to the venue, as well as to witness a full-on folk gig, centred on Nancy Kerr & James Fagan, who were celebrating 15 years playing together as a duo.

But first, the all-important cake. The Nice Green Café dished us up some fancy treats on delicate china plates, and some refreshing tea in paper cups. I felt a bit sorry for the one – very busy – guy on duty, but he seemed pretty jolly. So was I, as you can see, despite the fact that we couldn’t get my housemate’s iPad synced up with the Wi-Fi. Fortunately, Dan’s 3G-enabled phone came to our rescue.

We quickly found seats at the back of the hall, and Kerr and Fagan took to the stage, beginning appropriately with odes to their homelands – the East End of London and Australia respectively. Apollo on the Docks, Kerr’s Olympic Radio Ballad, explored the ‘faster, higher, stronger’ motto, and light-heartedly imagined Greek gods knocking about the Stratford area. It made a perfect foil for her distinctive, chirpy vocal, as did the excellent Jack Orion, sung at a furious pace.

Kerr, Kerr and Fagan. Photo: Lizzy Doe

Some Northumbrian pipe tunes followed, but it wasn’t long before the duo welcomed the first of many guests on to the stage. First up was Nancy’s mum, Sandra Kerr. She combined some dextrous concertina playing with some equally deft teasing of her son-in-law. Tim Van Eyken was next up, adding cheery melodeon to a song about the time the duo spent living on a houseboat. These biographical facts were useful for newcomers to the music, the insights made possible by the fact that the guest musicians were obviously friends of the couple, not just collaborators.

Tim Van Eyken joins in. Photo: Lizzy Doe

After an interval, and a couple of pints of Bonkers Conkers (not as bonkers as it sounds), the duo continued with the beautiful Outside Track, the words to which were written by Australian poet Henry Lawson. And the guests kept coming: Rick Foot added funky bass to an unusual vocal piece as well as Round Earth, which Kerr was inspired to write by the Darwin Song Project.

Piper Alan Burton and bodhran player Steve Hunt added a Cornish element to proceedings. The presence turned the now-foursome into a potent, dancey instrumental band, before another shift in pace as concertina maestro Rob Harbron accompanied Kerr on a delicate reworking of the traditional song I Wish, this version collected in the first place, appropriately enough, by Cecil Sharp himself.

The duo are joined by Alan Burton (l) and Steve Hunt. Photo: Lizzy Doe

Fagan more than held his own in the singing stakes, with a gripping version of Jerilderie, based on a frankly terrifying letter written by Ned Kelly. Jess and Richard Arrowsmith boosted the vocals on Fifty Verses, before Kirsty Bromley helped with some lovely harmonies on Santa Georgia, and the whole ensemble returned for the grand finale – a warm and hearty song, inspired, strangely enough, by the movie Jaws.

That wasn’t really it of course; a happy, free-spirited encore of Dance to Your Daddy showed that Kerr and Fagan were just as capable of delighting an audience on their own as with a gang of mates. As they succinctly tweeted the following morning: “well that went well”. Quite.

All smiles. Photo: Lizzy Doe

With the exception of me slurping tea, the photos on this blog were taken by the very talented Lizzy Doe, who’s also a great illustrator, behind the artwork for Kerr and Fagan’s Twice Reflected Sun album. You can see more photos here (if you’ve got Facebook), or (and) check out Lizzy’s website here.

If you do follow me on Twitter, I’d be interested to hear your feedback – is there anything you think I ought to be tweeting more or less about? My next sharing duty will be at Megson’s show on 18 October… maybe see you there!

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