The Convent used to be just that. It was bought in a semi-derelict condition a few years ago and is now a hotel, spa, studio and music venue – still a work in progress and delightfully eccentric. The owners have kept the ecclesiastical fixtures and the décor is now a blend of religion and rock’n’roll. Its only drawback is that it is high on a hill accessed via impossibly narrow lanes which were fine when the Poor Clares were in residence but are hardly suited to 21st century traffic.
The theatre itself is the first floor chapel and it was here that Kara chose to launch their second album, Some Other Shore on June 3rd. Because all the Convent’s gigs are streamed live there are no intervals and Daria Kulesh’s decision to be her own support put her under some pressure. She was worried about her voice and, accompanied by Jonny Dyer on guitar and keyboards she began with less upbeat songs from her first solo album, Eternal Child before she hit her stride with ‘At Midnight’. The final two songs are scheduled for her second album. ‘The Moon And The Pilot’ has already been heard and ‘Amanat’ will be heard many times. Both are rooted in 19th and 20th century history and politics which are major preoccupations for Daria at the moment. I won’t even try to explain to intricacies of the songs but the album they are destined for will be a major work.
The band joined Daria on stage to begin their set with ‘Rusalka’ from their debut album before starting on the new one with ‘Tamara’s Wedding’ and James Delarre in a guest role on fiddle. I was very impressed with the new material and the excellent sound balance. No one instrument dominated – except Daria’s voice, of course, and sometimes she was at her most theatrical. This was only the third gig for new box-player Phil Underwood and he has fitted in well: just two CDs and a few other songs to learn in less than six months so no pressure. His predecessor, Gary Holbrook, came from the Irish tradition but Phil is very English as his set of tunes, ‘Hollingbourne/Broadhurst Gardens’ proved. That said, he’s an expert in Cajun and Creole music which could make for an interesting fusion in time to come.
Inevitably, it is Daria that dominates on stage, but the writing is democratic. Even so, Ben Honey has been affected by her mystique. ‘Adrienne’ is a song set in England but which belongs in Kara-land, as does ‘Carousel Waltz’ but Ben pins the blame for ‘Stormteller’ on Douglas Adams. There was one Russian song, ‘Misery And Vodka’, which began with a stunning hammered dulcimer solo from Kate Rouse who also wrote ‘Black Tea Waltz’. They admitted that their encore ‘Start Wearing Purple’ was un-rehearsed and even un-arranged but it was fun. And then it was down to the bar!
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Artists’ website: www.karafolkband.com
Some Other Shore showreel: