I hadn’t realised Jim Moray was a local boy, well Stafford’s not far, being a scion of both Stafford and Lichfield Green Man (R.I.P.) Morris, which figures. And he seems to be running his career in reverse to the direction of folk music and it’s myriad “revivals”. My first exposure to him, probably a couple of decades ago, was all loops and laptops, now he is staunchly folk-rock, as in meat and potatoes rock band play the Childe ballads. False Lights, his band alongside another Folk Awards of yesteryear star of the future, Sam Carter, are a deliberate and focussed echo of the 70s, some good, some less so. This mini-tour is about the launch of their 2nd disc, released and purchased barely a fortnight ago.
Acting as his own support, and spiralling further down the time tunnel of trad.arr., he and band fiddle player, Tom Moore, gave half an hour of very Carthy and Swarb acoustica, only his straining and plaintive alto differentiating from that template. In a cold hall, it took or song or threee before he and the audience relaxed into it, even if they rejected a singalong offer for a song about space, perhaps the only original song heard all evening.
20 minutes to stock up on some ale and the lights get switched off again, and the 6 piece band troop on, Moray and Carter both toting expensive looking electric guitars, with fiddle and melodeon to one side, drums behind and bass to the back. Track 1, side 1 (sic) of Harmonograph, Babylon, rings out, all clangs and drangs, with the slight whiff of remembrance of, was it, Oysterbands use of the same song?. Thereon it is a fairly no holds bang through of most of the new album, with tasters from the last, their debut. A slowed version of Black Velvet Band, yes, the Dubliners’ one, but, as announced, nothing like it, provides early ballast from what, at times, was at risk of becoming overly generic and, once or twice, leaden. Thankfully such moments were few, but this is the risk of this type, 4:4 being a rhythm whose subtlety often lacks. (Skewball, supposedly the stand-out of their first record, is the main offender, but I don’t like it as a song, even the Planxty version.) To remind us this is the 21st century, Moray introduced odd snippets of electronica, looped claps and any number of guitar gizmos, which certainly livened up the proceedings, most notably on Wife of Ushers Well. The ensemble playing was superb. Largely eschewing solos, when all the instruments in full pelt, the sound fleshed out into almost a brass-like cadence I found particularly effective. A special word for the bassist, name unknown, depping for an absent Barn Stradling, and playing to the songs all on a music stand. You wouldn’t have known of any unfamiliarity from the sound, dub low notes, nimbly tripping high in the mix. Superb. Vocally I had always assumed Moray the lead partner, this notion now firmly disabused by Carter, who probably sang the more. Texturally of similar tone and timbre, he sounded slightly clearer and more confident. And I speak as a fan of Jim Moray’s vocals. I certainly found myself browsing his back-catalogue this morning.
About 80 minutes and it is to the fitting finale, by way of an excellent reconstruction of Murder in the Red Barn, the Shirley Collins magnum opus from No Roses. Crossing the Bar, lyrics by Alfred Lord Tennyson no less, remains their piece de resistance and is largely unlike the rest of their repertoire, churchy keyboard intro building to epic proportion, extinguishing most of my earlier grouches around heavy-handedness. A terrific song they will struggle to ever better.
A nice touch was to have the band regroup, a capella in the aisle, for the encore, audience participation invited and duly given.
False Lights are probably a bit of an anachronism. But, in the right setting and the obvious love and enthusiasm demonstrated for the material and the arrangements some how give them a credibility. File as the Fairport to Offa Rex’s Steeleye. And probably best seen outdoors at a festival.
Hmm, cue @colin-H and his busted flush….. Lichfield Arts aren’t a folk club but they could be, floor singers being the only thing missing, thank the lord. But the audience were definitely too old and respectable for the band, the fiddle and melodeon players being possibly up to 50 years younger than their audience. They gave rousing applause, though, perhaps suggesting they were there the first time these songs were ever aired with electricity. I didn’t win the raffle, either.
It made me think..
I still like folk-rock after all. (But I am not buying tickets for when Fairport come playing here in May. Definitely not. Unless I do.)