The Tunnels seem cavernous this evening. Three up-and-coming folk groups from south of the border have made the long journey north to a disappointingly under-attended show. It doesn’t help that the venue is mostly used for club nights, making the sound of sticky footsteps linger awkwardly during those in-between performance moments.
But thankfully this doesn’t hinder Bristol’s Heg & the Wolf Chorus, who play their own brand of fairytale influenced folk. It’s sweet enough to eat, perhaps a little too much at times, but the band is technically sound. Heg’s pitch is well trained and pitch-perfect, and the five piece band are incredibly tight, as heard in Heg’s seafaring ode to her granny Sea Shanty for Bessie Harker. They’re missing a bit of an edge, though that will surely come with time, given a little more heartache and heartbreak.
Next up are Gilmore & Roberts, who sound like they belong in these parts but in actual fact are currently based in Barnsley. In their more traditional folk moments, Katrina Gilmore’s brooding fiddle echoes that of Lau’s Aidan O’Rourke. The other half of the duo is Tom Roberts, who plays his guitar across his lap whilst simultaneously beating it like a drum at light speed. Interspersed with their ceilidh-bound folk are ballads including Silver Screen, Gilmore’s loving ode to her sat nav (which, by the way, sounds like the perfect relationship). It’s clear the duo have been making music together for a while now; they’re incredibly in tune with one another and have a warm and natural presence together on stage.
From their opening note, Bridie Jackson and the Arbour are utterly entrancing. This Newcastle-based four piece have built a solid name for themselves in folk circles since winning the Glastonbury Emerging Talent competition in 2013. Faultless vocal harmonies and string arrangements transform the Tunnels into a soul-soothing cathedral. Their second song Prolong is simply beautiful, displaying the band’s seemingly effortless knack for pure and rich intricacies.
In contrast, a few toe-tappers are peppered throughout the set, with Jackson’s vocals on Diminutive Man echoing mid-70s Linda Ronstadt. The Arbour also include their fan-picked cover of The Cure’s The Lovecats, the unmistakeable baseline of the original given new life by Jenny Nendick’s consistently gorgeous cello. They end with the upbeat Mucky, but their strength really lies in the woeful side of their set. The Arbour sure do have something remarkable. And when you witness it live, it’s simply irresistible.