Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Smooth as selkie - review of Lady Maisery at New Greenham Arts

Lady Maisery at New Greenham Arts, Greenham, on Thursday, May 23

 WHAT do you mean you haven’t heard of the bansitar? It’s a musical instrument that combines the sound of a sitar with the tuning and playing technique of a banjo. And do you know what diddling is? It’s a style of singing without words, once common in England, used to create music for dancing without the need for instruments. OK then, how about a bit of clog dancing? You don’t see much of it round these parts, but the tradition continues in the north of England, where it grew up around the factories and workhouses.

Lady Maisery is an all-female trio, Hazel Askew, Hannah James and Rowen Rheingan, who all grew up steeped in the folk tradition and performing from an early age, before coming together to form a harmony group focussing on the vocal traditions of Britain and further afield, with Scandinavian, Celtic and Appalachian songs also getting a look in.

The general cheeriness of Lady Maisery’s performance - and of the often upbeat tunes - contrasts with the themes that pop up regularly in their songs, particularly those on their newly-released second album Mayday, which intentionally scrutinises the human (and often female) struggle for power and equality.

And thus, thought-provoking modern folk songs such as The Crow On The Cradle by Jackson Browne and Palaces Of Gold (inspired by the Aberfan disaster) by Leon Rosselson were performed alongside old songs about honour-based murder, illegitimate births (covered up by Scottish songs of selkies - fabled man-seals - making night time visitations), and the importance of clinging on to that precious “maidenhood”.

Even West Berkshire resident Kate Bush got a look-in, with a particularly lovely interpretation of her song This Women’s Work, a song about childbirth sung from the partner’s viewpoint, which Lady Maisery originally recorded as a charity single to celebrate International Women’s Day. 

Some of the lyrical vibes may have been a bit on the heavy side, but Lady Maisery’s performance certainly was not. The trio were warm and engaging, their harmonies gorgeous, and their between-song chats both enlightening and often mood-lightening. The vocal focus of their performance blended with their other musical abilities, playing the fiddle, banjo, harp, accordion and concertina.

Oh yes - and then there’s the diddling. There’s something innately cheery about diddling. You can’t listen to a diddle and not smile, even if it comes straight off the back of a song about death - their sign-off song, Sleep On Beloved, isn’t just about someone having a snooze. But however chilling and stark some of Lady Maisery’s songs may be, it’s nothing that a diddle and a little bit of clogging can’t solve.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on May 30, 2013

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