BONNIE ‘PRINCE’ BILLY
With Trembling Bells, Trinity Hall, 03/05/12
Glasgow’s Trembling Bells, the ensemble formed by drummer Alex Nielson, have been involved in many celebrated collaborations – Jandek, Mike Heron and Current 93 to name a few – but seldom have felt more cohesive than new album, The Marble Downs with American alt-folk legend Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. This spring tour takes in mostly converted churches, providing a suitably resonant setting for their modern take on traditional and often medieval-sounding folk songs. As an ensemble, each musician brings a professional history that feeds each note with quality and understanding.
Opener Lord Bless All, a Robin Gibb-penned tune, has all the epic and odd qualities to begin proceedings, followed by I Can Tell You’re Leaving, imbued with the necessary urgency of anxiety and jumping tempos, leaving us hotfooted and keen. Singer and keyboardist Lavinia Blackwell’s voice dominates the 60s garage of Ain’t Nothing Wrong with such clarity and charm, it’s hard not to be impressed whilst Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, all lop-sided dancing and hand gesturing, makes the perfect foil bringing his Appalachian intensity to this Fairport Convention-esqe wistfulness. The psych-rock qualities of Mike Hastings’ guitar, meanwhile, lift the medieval folk tones above and beyond their limited appeal.
The crowd, largely made up of 40-something folkies and what seems to be a young Christian prayer meeting, lap it up. The piano-led reading of Dorothy Parker’s poem, Excursions into Assonance sounds especially regal in this environment and My Husband’s Got No Courage In Him cuts to the core of masculine inadequacies with Billy playing the part of the woeful male. The bittersweet nature of the lyrical themes throughout give a poignant and truthful take on relationships, respective roles and inadequacies. The fact that this show was a sell-out only deepens the feelings that folk in all it’s facets is finding it’s way back into people’s hearts, and rightly so with such unique quality on offer.
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Words: Philip Allen