And so it was that I had the pleasure of another frosty night at the Kaz, this time for the first night of the gloriously titled ‘Womenfolk’ tour. Currently in its second year, this brainchild of Band on the Wall and Roots Music showcases trios of female singer-songwriters. The nights roster comprised of welsh harpist Georgia Ruth – described as “one of British folk’s discoveries of the year” by the Guardian, won the 2013 Welsh music prize and was nominated for two 2014 BBC Folk Awards – Kathryn Williams – established purveyor of folk-pop, with 10 critically acclaimed studio albums to her name – and she of the shruti-box Maz O’Connor – who’s second album ‘Willowed Light’ was described by the Observer as “Folk album of the year thus far”. In other words, all the right ingredients were in place for an evening of gentle acoustic-ness and many a lilting, woe-begotten narrative.
Indeed, it was the kind of fare that might ordinarily have worked better in a slightly cosier venue. As it was, the bizarre loveliness of the Kazimier dressed in tables and chairs and tea-lights (replete with inexplicable pumpkin sequins) only emphasised the vibe of the night – one akin to telling stories round the campfire. The three songstresses took it in turns to play each other their tunes with frosty breath (it was really quite chilly, an audience member at one point lending O’Connor her purple sparkly gloves and all three songstresses returning for the second half in bobbly hats).
Moving from right to left across the stage, Maz O’Connor was last to introduce herself, performing both an original and a traditional song, her phrasing akin to Laura Marling or Jess Anslow. I thought her songwriting the most characterful of the three, often shifting between many speakers. Her two songs about women made for the most interesting, and poignant moments of the night: ‘Derby Day’ is a tribute to Emily Davidson and the Women’s Suffrage movement, told from the perspective of a young boy, whilst the narrative of ‘Missisipi Woman’ presents an alternative to the creation story of Eve.
Kathryn Williams, the best established artist of the three, took centre stage. However, one sensed that she was the least comfortable with the setting, possibly due to the cold and/or first night jitters. Her performance did not quite live up to her polished, warm set at Leaf this time last year, when she was touring her album Crown Electric, complete with a soaring string quartet. Perhaps it was just that the simple beauty of her songs stand up better with fuller instrumentation. This being said, she is still wizard of the loop pedal and delivered her set with her characteristic strong, affecting voice; her stories honest ones, free from pretension.
Georgia Ruth was both first to bring celtic-inspired song-spinning to the fore and the artist whose job was now conclude the gig. Of the three, I thought her the most captivating to watch, possibly due to it being a joy to see the lever harp played at once so intricately and so deftly, and also because she seemed so at ease with the intensity of a 30-strong crowd of intent listeners. Her breathy, yet open voice stood out as strident atop simple folk melodies, particularly lovely when singing in her native welsh. Georgia’s self-penned ‘Dancing’ had the type of piano-led melody and accompaniment that seems self-sustaining and carries you with it; a glistening end to the night. In summation of the night: a true meeting of minds which highlighted the importance of reciprocity, listening and the joy of narrative in keeping the folk tradition alive.