Red Sky July at London Folk Fest
By Lesley Hastings
As most North Londoners will testify, it takes a lot to lure us “South of the river” but hearing that one of my favourite bands, Red Sky July, were playing on Americana Day ( great 4th July idea!) at this year’s London Folk Festival I decided to take the plunge and cross the great divide ( no passport required, apparently!) .
The Bedford Pub in Balham is a well known music venue, and I was suitably impressed with everything about my evening there, particularly the sound quality in the beautiful “Theatre” where the band performed to a really appreciative crowd, the informal cabaret style seating working well with a balcony providing an alternative viewing point. Oh, and it had its own small bar at the back, too!
The trio of husband and wife, Ally Mcerlaine and Shelly Poole, along with Charity Hair, are getting quite a following from those who appreciate great song writing and who love the girls’ smooth vocal harmonies and Ally’s superb guitar playing.
Their 30 minute set started off with several tracks from their first two albums, interspersed with snippets of info about themselves for those “Red Sky July virgins” in the audience ( Shelly and Charity are never short of a word or two!) and I particularly enjoyed hearing them speak of the inspiration behind several of their compositions. This included the story of how “Here then Gone” was written after Ally suffered a major brain aneurysm whilst they were working on their first album. It is a beautifully penned song that will no doubt strike a chord with anyone who has had a loved one suddenly taken from them ( although pleased to say that obviously Ally made a miraculous recovery!). I am so glad they also chose to include one of my favourite tracks from their second, crowd-funded, album “Shadowbirds”, the haunting “Renedade”, which they explained was written after reading one of the bloodiest novels written in recent times, Cormac McCarthy’s ” Blood Meridian” based on barbaric historical events that took place on the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850’s. Charity swapped guitar for violin to add even more atmosphere to this great song. Not known for their upbeat, optimistic compositions, something they frequently joke about, “Losing You” was introduced as their “happy break-up song” check out the fun video that they made for this
and indeed it was one of the more uptempo songs of the set, along with their final number “Warm my Heart” which incidentally is another about a relationship breaking up but also about moving on and finding someone more worthy. The audience were soon clapping along to its infectious beat.
Just before their last song Shelly asked the audience which cover they’d like to hear performed, “Take it to the Limit” or “Travelln’ Soldier”………an overwhelming vote for the former was met with disappointment from the trio, and they decided to treat us to their versions of both so we could decide which we preferred. Both were great takes on classic country songs, but the tragic story portrayed by them so emotionally in the Dixie Chicks cover got the crowd’s vote in the end!
A great set and good introduction to the band for those unfamiliar with them beforehand. As a long-time fan I was excited to hear that work on their third album is going well ( they were due to treat us to a track from it but time got the better of them) and no doubt this hard-working trio will be back on the road promoting it as soon as it is released. They are playing a few more Summer festivals ( they have Glastonbury and Isle of Wight behind them) and are already confirmed as playing Midwinterfest in Torquay next January where I for one can’t wait to see them again .
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