The quartet got together at the suggestion of Kathryn Tickell (which seems as good a reason as any). It was only later, apparently, that it occurred to Tickell that her supergroup all happened to be female fiddle players, as well as singers.
At the foursome’s Haywards Heath show, the vocal element is certainly what hits first. Scots singer Kate Young leads the line on opener Greasy Coat, her bold delivery and musical brogue lending itself pleasingly to the old-timey Americana. The fiddles initially act as a subtle bed for the singing, and the harmonies from Farrell, Hardy and Carthy are warm and considered. Proceedings are leant a certain swing via Young’s ankle-mounted tambourine, and Carthy’s bass drum, which she stomps at all night.
Farrell keeps the momentum going, leading a song about birds from Cecil Sharp’s Appalachian collection, and a wonderful Myrtle Tree (a relation of the more familiar Flash Company). Her sweet-sounding voice lends a fresh layer of innocence to the regretful piece.
Bella Hardy is, tonight, suffering from a cold, which gives her speaking voice a husky quality she’s evidently quite pleased with – but it does mean her singing duties are scaled back. In order to ease the strain, Eliza Carthy sings Dream of Napoleon, unaccompanied. It’s one of those truly jaw-dropping, unforgettable performances, full of emotion, soul and verve. That Carthy can – apparently quite casually – pull something like this out of the bag at short notice is simply stunning.
Quite an act for Hardy to follow, then, as she announces she’s going to lead on a version of Patsy Cline’s Walking After Midnight. There’s a palpable tension in the room as she clears her throat, but Hardy’s opening notes dispel any fears – her voice is as rich as ever, her delivery as finely pitched, and the slight rasp in her voice makes it all sound… pretty sexy, frankly. There are – genuinely – gasps of admiration from the audience.
I’d not heard of Kate Young before Laylam was announced, but she more than holds her own in such illustrious company (check the video of her standing in a lake, below). Young’s own composition, Green & Gold, is inspired by Slovenian figs (yep, Slovenian figs) and characterised by unexpected percussive scrapes and changes in direction. And her singing is just as good – she leads a sassy version of Why Don’t You Do Right with confidence.
Although the group’s singing is, as Tickell figured, complementary, with Carthy able to explore the lower register of her remarkable voice, it turns out their fiddle-playing styles are too. Farrell is a keen ‘plucker’, Carthy’s “whale” (a mighty, thick violin) provides a teeth-vibrating bassy element, and Hardy and Young thread their way in and around. The quartet seem totally at ease, too, jokily bossing one another around and spreading a happy mood through the venue.
Other highlights include Farrell’s moving My Love is Like a Dewdrop, the magnificent “Welsh sea shanty” 100 Years (Carthy’s drum gets another walloping here), and two Mike Waterson moments – Chickens in the Garden and Country Life, which end each half.
A heavenly chorus encore of “God song” Better Home only goes to illustrate Tickell’s prescience even further. Good call, Kathryn. Good call.
As I write, you can still catch Carthy Hardy Farrell Young at Diss, Great Torrington, Birmingham and London, if you’re quick.