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AAA Music | 23 April 2024

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Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker – Live @ Cecil Sharp House

| On 20, Mar 2015

Josienna Clarke + Ben Walker

Thursday 12th March, London

First night of the tour: tension and anticipation were running high for Josienne Clarke, Ben Walker and the audience in the big hall of Cecil Sharp House. With the regular dance classes taking place in the rooms below our feet and the wonderful feeling of being caught in a bubble of history and timeless traditions, it was the perfect venue to kick-start the duo’s tour.

Initially there were a few more empty seats than I had expected but these were soon forgotten when we were greeted by the lovely surprise of a brief support set from Samantha Whates. What a voice! Her compositions and musicianship were superb, in particular the elasticity with which she felt the phrases of her songs. She was the perfect precursor to Josienne and Ben and as she continued to sing throughout the evening as a backing vocalist to Josienne, it was evident how well the two singers locked into each other’s sounds.

During the course of Samantha’s music the hall had filled up, making for a cozy setting for Josienne and Ben’s first set. Songs mainly from their latest album, Nothing Can Bring Back the Hour made up the first half of the gig, interspersed with Josienne’s dry humour.  The songs, which have retained a blissful simplicity that make Josienne and Ben so special were accompanied by original and very well thought out string parts played by Anna Jenkins (viola), Jo Silverton (cello) and John Parker (double bass). Hearing Ben’s string arrangements live was really special as it was possible to hear how much they brought out the essence of each song. His part writing creates a crossroads of worlds; on the one hand the string section is striking and precise with large vibrato, steadfast pizzicato and an almost defiantly classical nature. On the other, Josienne’s voice and Ben’s accompaniment is more spontaneous and flexible with a maintained sense of purpose.

As always, Josienne’s delivery of her material was honest and selfless. Her rich, uninhibited tone, gilded with a highly individualised approach to articulation carried the audience to the heart of her songs, a place of clarity and understanding.

We heard great contrast during the evening, from the bitter-sweet outlook of ‘Silverline’ where the strings offered a light-hearted contrapuntal accompaniment to the more homogenous section-writing of the dark, melancholic ‘It Would Not Be a Rose’, a pensive delve into the murky waters of the heart (it seems I have been influenced by the rather bleak nature of their music, which, Josienne assured us; she will not be apologising for anymore!).

The second half saw more songs which weren’t from Nothing Can Bring Back the Hour. A favourite of mine (somewhat worryingly!), Josienne’s ‘Psycho-ballad’ song, ‘Anyone But Me’ from their 2013 album Fire & Fortune was a nice addition to the set, as was the beautiful Argentian song ‪’La Cancion de las Simples Cosas’ which not only showcased Josienne’s Spanish, but also Ben’s versatility on the guitar! I really enjoyed ‘Dark turn of Mind’, a Gillian Welch cover with further exemplary part writing from Ben.

They are a must-see duo so find out when they are playing near you!

Heather Ryall