KATIE SPENCER – Weather Beaten (own label GUK-PR002KRS)

Weather BeatenRalph McTell has likened the Yorkshire progressive folk singer-songwriter’s guitar playing to Bert Jansch. I’d not disagree, but I’d also suggest Davy Graham and Wizz Jones have also helped shape her highly distinctive and often esoteric patterns and structures, while she herself cites Roy Harper, John Martyn and Laura Marling among her influences.

Produced by Spencer Cozens, who, of course, collaborated with Martyn, and accompanied by Tom Mason on double bass, percussionist Miles Bould and Martin Winning on woodwind, this is her album debut following two EPs, and is very much informed by the East Riding landscape in terms of atmosphere, mood and imagery.

She opens with, at just over two minutes, the shortest track, ‘Incense Skin, with its circling crystal shimmering fingerpicked guitar and double bass bookending the poetic four line lyric. It sets the musical mood and the war, intimate vocal style for the subsequent ‘Drinking The Same Water’ with its lightly dappled melody, Bould’s subtle percussive shadings and a lyric in which simple actions, like counting the trees on the way to school or washing her hands, prompt thoughts about an absent parent, wondering if they are doing the same and thinking of her.

Coloured with clarinet, the title track follows, again with a circling guitar and touching on a fractured relationship, unexpectedly seeing the face of a former (and jealous) lover across a room, things shifting into jazzier guitar territory for ‘You Came Like A Hurricane’, an almost 90-second instrumental intro giving way to a more lyrically upbeat number about finding new love (outside a supermarket), the sort that feels like discovering twenty pound notes under your duvet.

Continuing in the same vein of weather imagery, the languidly sung ‘Hello Sun’ has a lovely summer afternoon vibe and a lyric about looking to spend some time in the sunshine again after having been hanging out for too long with the darkness; for some inexplicable reason it reminds me of Melanie.

A delicate, pastoral folk instrumental that serves to showcase her guitar virtuosity, Helsa (which may or may not connect to the Norwegian for saying hello) provides the bridge to the album’s second half which gets underway with ‘Too High Alone’, a parting song (“today you have your boots on”) that, featuring Winning’s clarinet, has vague musical hints of ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’.

Albeit with some minor tweaks to the lyrics, the sole traditional number is an arrangement of (fittingly) ‘Spencer The Rover’, a folk staple that’s been recorded by, among others, Shirley Collins, The Copper Family and John Martyn, and, while taken a slightly more uptempo pace, it’s his reading this most recalls. Interestingly, while the lyric has mention of Spencer rambling in Yorkshire, only one variant of the song has ever been collected in the county, in 1907, as sung by George Hall in Hooton Roberts, which, as per the song lyrics, is “near Rotherham”.

Another parting song, ‘The Best Thing About Leaving’ is structured in two parts, opening with a bluesy feel, Andalucian tones etched on resonant Spanish guitar to a wind-like drone backdrop, and the strongest indication of Martyn’s influence, the first two lines of the lyric followed by a lengthy instrumental passage before, just over half way in, the track shapeshifts for a more lilting section containing the remaining uplifting two verses.

Featuring sampled bird trills, it ends with ‘The Hunter’, the album’s most musically fluid and upbeat track, riding a rippling rhythm and hand percussion with lyrics that melds images of both restlessness (“the cuckoo flew this morning”) and permanence (“discontent with rented goods”) as she sings “I am not the hunter you say I am/The bird’s nest it’s always in my head/Never in my hands”.

McTell calls her a musical weaver threading tapestries of song. Long may her loom spin.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.katiespencer.net

‘You Came Like A Hurricane’ – live:

Katie Spencer – in praise of live music

Katie Spencer
Photograph by Mike Wistow

Saturday night I find myself in a church in a small village. This settlement is so tiny that to describe it as a small hamlet overstates it. The best part of fifty years ago I came here on an archeological dig to see if there really had been a Roman settlement, on the edge of a river crossing now too deep and polluted for anyone to risk going in the water (though I was talking to a retired farmer last night who’d swum over in what he described as his foolish youth).

And in the church is a folk concert. Whoa – a folk concert in this place which I associate more with Roman Rome than the modern world; and also whoa – a folk concert in a church – wouldn’t have happened fifty years ago when my great aunt played the church organ in the village on the other side of the river. Even worse (albeit better for me last night) we brought our own alcohol. Fifty years ago the only red wine allowed in the place would have been for communion. The roof didn’t fall in (and see later).

Photograph by Mike Wistow

I knew nothing about the gig before – I’ll go and watch anything live and just said yes when asked to go. What a setting – as the photos show. Three sessions, two artists. Joe Clark, first on, played a mix of covers and own songs. Clever guitar playing from his adeptness in both classical and folk guitar, notably on John Martyn’s ‘May You Never’ and Ralph McTell’s ‘From Clare To Here’ as well as on his own stuff.

Being this kind of venue, there’s a break to stretch the legs and catch up with people. As well as friends who were part of the group I came with, I met an old mate I played cricket with in rural and industrial Nottinghamshire more than thirty years ago in the midst of the miners’ strike and all that went with it. He’s now retired, more into jazz, but happy for his land to be used annually for a folk mini-festival.

Katie Spencer, on the link below and pictured above played two sets. Lovely voice, lovely picking. She’s from Hull, where I lived for ten years or so – a great city of the arts long before it became a (capitalised) City of Culture. If you click on the link below to Spencer’s website and flick through the videos you’ll see why I bought the CD. Mostly her own songs – I particularly liked ‘Drinking The Water’ – but including Spencer the Rover, in recognition of the tradition, the folk revival versions of the song, her own surname and the life of the travelling musician.

So, folk is live. In the break, I learnt folk isn’t just live, the money raised is going to repair the church roof (which still hadn’t fallen in). What more could you want – not just a good evening, but a good cause. Wise also – you don’t even notice you’re raising money because you are simply here enjoying yourself.

There were fewer than a hundred of us. And at venues all over the country, this kind of acoustic music is keeping folk live. For me last night a church, songs of life, stories of Hull, a catch up with old friends, memories of an archeological dig, memories of the formerly thriving pit towns and villages and memories of family long gone – and the same kind of thing is going on in pubs, clubs, halls, fields, house concerts across the country.

Within a ten mile radius of where I live, I knew of three events the same night, Boo Hewerdine in one and Daisy Chapman in the other. There may have been more?

So…in praise of live music – and many thanks to all those artists and promoters who are keeping it live.

Mike Wistow

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Katie Spencer ‘s website: http://www.katiespencer.net

Katie Spencer – ‘Can’t Resist The Road’ live: