The Dorothy Pax is a quirky, welcoming drinkery, housed in what were once railway arches, located at the terminus of the Sheffield Canal. Its bar is recycled history, made from its namesake, The Dorothy Pax, one of the last timber-built Humber keel boats that once brought coke (the fuel kind) into Sheffield. With its storied past, this was a perfect place to host an evening of lyrical tale-telling.
As I’ve been subsisting on a gig diet of post-punk and weird-ass experimental offerings for most of the year, I was quite looking forward to a change of pace, and I wasn’t disappointed by this beautifully curated evening of folksome tuneage.
A close-harmony collective, Sheffield’s own Little Robots played folky, bluesy, bluegrassy ditties to warm us up and calm us down. The third part of the usually 3-part harmony was sadly missing, but despite being a (hu)man down, Little Robots successfully supplied us with lilting tunes and whimsical ballads. An “eyes closed” kind of folk band, who seemed a little nervous to begin with, they soon settled into their twiddly groove. Laura Burn Acaster’s vocal performance, with those nice wibbly bits that seem to be the hallmark of female folk singers, was at times quite mesmerising. Their final song, recounting a tale of police brutality and crushing injustice, was perfectly to my folk taste – passionate, powerful and political.
A woman who knows ALL the chords, and can apparently play some of them simultaneously, Emily Jones is one impressive musician. She’s also the very talented writer of some supremely strange songs, many of them about either bees or dust. Resident of Salisbury, her ethereal, breathy vocal particularly compliments her more medieval-sounding compositions. And she’s funny, delivering comedic lyrics with a perfectly deadpan demeanour. ‘Bum-Crack Ice Cream Guy’, an inspired tale of nasty personal habits and food hygiene transgressions and ‘Pieces of People’, possibly the best song ever written about dust, really stood out. According to Arch Garrison, Emily Jones is one of the most psychedelic women he’s ever met. She is most certainly surreal. And really quite superb.
Appearing at the Dorothy Pax as part of their Winter Warmer tour, Arch Garrison are actually a duo. This time Craig Fortnam was going solo, with occasional virtual accompaniment from his band-bud James Larcombe. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an act play drumlines from their phone before. And I’m not sure James’s digital contribution was strictly necessary, because Mr Fortnam is a gobsmackingly gifted guitarist who plays his instrument like he has four hands, or two guitars, or both.
Arch Garrison’s set was the sonic expression of intermingled eclectic influences, from the music of Cardiacs, to the poetry of William Blake. There was baroque loveliness. There was social commentary in the form of a wonderful cover of Elvis Costello’s ‘Shipbuilding’. And I never thought I could be quite so entranced by a song about the Thames.
Craig Fortnam sings with a pleasing Estuary English accent akin to Tim Smith’s. I think. As I’m a child of the North with limited knowledge of the ways of the Southerner, I may well be wrong about that. I’m sure someone *cough Laura Holmes cough* will correct me if so. Wherever it’s from, Fortnam’s accent is as agreeable as he his charming. And he’s as talented a story teller as he is a musician, bringing his life to his music and his lyrics to life. With compassion but not sentimentality, he sang about the birth of his son – “Blessed we are now, we’ve skin in the game”. And at the end was a song about endings, a staccato exploration of the causes of death and the realisation that it’s just how it is – “hey ho here we go, it’s a song that we all know”. Human, warm, matter of fact and beautifully expressed, this tale of finality was a perfect finale.
Happily, Buds and Spawn has been commissioned for another series and is returning in 2020.
Review & Photography by H J Nicol