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HECTOR CHRISTIE & CHRIS EDWARDS - Cellar Upstairs Folk Club - London 23 January 2016

There's a lot of competition in Central London to grab your entertainment money on a Saturday night. It says much for this club's trust in organiser Sheila Miller that there was a very healthy turnout for this duo largely unknown in London. Two 40 minute sets, culminating in demands for an encore, showed that the booking certainly paid dividends for all concerned.

Hector is well known in festival and singaround sessions, but his pairing with Chris opens whole new possibilities, as Chris swaps from Spanish guitar to accordion to concertina then continues to lend different textures on fiddle and mandola. A pair of Child ballads, back to back - The Twa Corbies followed by Fair Willie Drooned In Yarrow - set a tone for the first half (which Hector referred to as the “Old Testament” half), which also included an interesting dedication to Scottish dance band vocalists in the form of one I'd never heard before, Lassie Wi' The Yellow Coatie. It was noticeable from the outset that although the songs and tunes were meticulously chosen, the audience was to be spared any “worthy” approach, as the pair gave a quick guide to pinpointing where their songs came from: “If it's got drinking, fighting and sex, it's Scottish; just fighting and drinking without the sex, it's Irish; no sex or fighting, just songs about drinking, it's English, and if the songs contain none of the above but are sung by large groups of men, singing about coal, it's Welsh.”

The first half sped by with both lads surprised that time was up, and segueing from Chris on accordion on a subtle version of Auld Robin Grey, learned from Jedburgh fiddler, Tom Hughes, into a rip-roaring version of McPherson's Rant, whose treatment defined the very meaning of rant, and had the audience belting it out along with them.

The second half included a range of dedications to more contemporary songwriters, from Matt Armour's Shores O' The Forth, to a couple from the pen of McGinn, and the tongue twisting Lum Hat Wantin' A Croon, where a yell from Chris at one point in the song clearly took Hector by surprise, cracking both him and the audience up.

The biggest surprise of the evening was their dedication of Robin Williamson's October Song to Indian singer and London lass, Sheila Chandra. Hector explained that although they both loved the song, they hadn't been sure how to treat it, till he remembered her version of McCrimmon's Lament which effortlessly blended Indian and Scottish sounds, and were assisted by a mandola “which thinks it's a sitar”. Deathly silence in the room as they walked a high risk tightrope, swooping, stretching notes and running others together unexpectedly to end with Chris playing them out on a raga sounding conclusion - then came the shouts of approval, particularly from a Bristol/Chippenham contingent who'd travelled specially for the gig.

The finish again showed them avoiding clichés. Ending with Ae Fond Kiss, the demands for an encore were met, not by any rousing finisher, but instead probably the quietest, most moving song of the night - Land O' The Leal. Great singing and skilful playing, which was never emptily flashy, but admirably counterpointed the message of each song throughout.

A fulfilling night, and thanks to all concerned.

Pierre George