PLB+PH review: Poppy Folk Club 19/6/22

Thanks to Peter Poppy for this review of our recent double header with Pumhall at the Poppy folk club …

Our double-header ‘Extra’ concert on June 19th brought the biggest and best audience since the Poppy Folk Club emerged into the light from the restrictions of the lock-down years; partly thanks to both bands bringing in plenty of their own followers. In musical style, this was a bit of a departure from the club’s regular concerts, but it worked very well, with Plumhall and the Phil Langran Band playing for almost an hour each and grabbing the audience’s attention from the start.

Plumhall (Michelle Plum and Nick Hall) are a guitar and vocal duo from Yorkshire, playing self-penned songs ranging in feel from pop and rock, to Americana and folk. At times there were echoes of Dire Straits, sometimes the combination of voices reminded me of Robert Plant’s Band of Joy (particularly on ‘On that Further Shore’), with many songs having a big, driving acoustic guitar rhythm. After the first half a dozen songs as a duo their sound was superbly supplemented by Mark Walker (on loan from Phil Langran) playing bass guitar for the remainder of the set.

Michelle and Nick were delightful and entertaining throughout, both taking the lead vocal in turn – Michelle’s vocals on ‘Closing Down’ (about the end of season at Whitby) being especially lovely. Nick, meanwhile, in a moment of madness, delighted us with a verse of Chumbawamba’s ‘I get Knocked Down’ (Michelle toured with them) in the style of George Formby!

And if you want to watch something special, you could do worse than to watch the video of ‘A Darkness That Won’t Leave the House’ (https://youtu.be/HX-Cf-_ICGI) – a song about mental health. The story in the video description tells all.

The Phil Langran Band (a previous Poppy Folk Day performer) features four excellent musicians in their own right: Steve Benford (acoustic guitar and banjo), Alistair Bloomfield (fiddle), Mark Walker (bass) and Frank McCarthy (electric guitar) – all feature strongly in their showpieces and all provide vocal harmonies – but their big role in the band is to highlight and double-underline Phil Langran’s gorgeous songs. Phil’s songwriting has been praised in higher places than this. I’ll just say that for me the emotion and subtlety of the songs, delivered with a steady rhythm and Phil’s slightly fragile (Lou Reed-like?) voice, really picks you up and carries you along.

Phil has a lovely, easy manner and a very dry sense of humour, making the song introductions almost as special as the music itself. It is evident that his band has a great respect for him and his songs.

The opening track ‘You Can’t Go Back’ showcased the whole band, each having their instrument featured in a solo. But individual members of the band had other moments to shine too. Steve Benford – we already know he’s an excellent acoustic guitarist – brought out his banjo for a couple of tracks, ‘The Crooked Mile/The Maid Behind the Bar’, and ‘The Diamond Wheel/The Star of Munster’ (with Ali also rocking along well), and really picked up the pace. Frank showed his skills and subtlety particularly well on the solos in ‘Snow Angels’ and (the gorgeous) ‘Time’s Dark Wing’, while Ali’s fiddle in ‘Bright Autumn Sky’ was beautiful. Mark’s bass provided a backdrop to most of the night, featuring in both bands’ music.

The two bands have played together several times recently, so it was only fitting that Nick and Michelle joined Phil’s band on the (tiny) Poppy stage for the final ballad: ‘Injury Time’.

Time’s Dark Wing

It had been a long time since we had all been able to get together – so was lovely to gather in Frank’s garden back in October to record this version of Time’s Dark Wing. Thanks for Frank for the recording and production too. Here’s looking forward to venues reopening next year when we can see you all again …