Kathryn Williams & Neill MacColl
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Kathryn Williams (pictured) and Neill MacColl saunter onto the Queen Elizabeth Hall’s stage amidst an enthusiastic smattering of applause, MacColl unassumingly perching himself atop a stool and Williams taking her place betwixt a modest collection of pedals and microphones. Backed by Two players Simon Edwards (bass) and Martin Barker (drums), over the course of the evening they charm, harmonise and generally combine a treat.
Two? Two (reviewed here) is the end-product of a Folk Britannia-arranged pairing of the two where they performed ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ together (incidentally, one of hundreds of songs penned by folk-singer/socialist icon Ewan MacColl for his lover, and Neill’s mother, Peggy Seeger). An intuitive musical partnership ensued whereby Two (‘cause there are two of them, see? Yes, we know) was written, recorded and mixed in double-quick time before emerging early last month.
Tonight finds the pair roughly halfway through their tour of the nation, warm repartee resonating through gentle, understated songcraft. Finger-picked acoustic guitars and softly brushed drums provide foundation for the evening’s entertainment, the musicianship adept and proficient. Williams' voice quietly enchants while MacColl’s finely complements, though as the set wears on it leans towards soporific in nature; mawkish lyrics an inescapable hindrance, songs audibly yearning for augmentation. Things look up, then, with their take on Tom Waits’ ‘Innocent When You Dream’, dedicated to a recently deceased friend of MacColl’s and embellished with cute thumb-piano outro courtesy of Williams.
The night steps up a gear from this point onwards, Williams’ voice impressing further and MacColl easing into the easy interaction the former advocates with the crowd. If one thing is apparent it’s that the pair shines brightest when they stray furthest from the traditional, simple folk that informs the bulk of the set. Far and away the most memorable tune of the night is ‘Grey Goes’, a bluesy shuffle that finds Williams authoritative in her vocal, looping it some (that’s what those pedals and the extra mic were for!) and even whipping out a violin bow with which to play her guitar.
That’s about the sum of it this evening. The slightly more diverse elements traversed prior recur towards the close of the set; MacColl lies down on stage in order to convince Williams to giggle her way through a particular interpretation of hers he’d like to hear (Ivor Cutler’s inestimably lovely ‘Beautiful Cosmos’); additional warm strums are relayed and all players met with resounding applause. The show concludes with a rendition of L-Co’s ‘Hallelujah’, Williams’ delivery uncharacteristically (though forgivably) showy. Hardly a stirring, life-affirming gig then, but that was arguably never the two’s intention; more to create something lustrous, that for the most part comes off merely (very) pleasant.
Photo: Amanda Searle