I had the pleasure of attending the From The Whitehouse showcase event at English Folk Expo yesterday afternoon. It was set in the gorgeous Hallé St Michael’s in the heart of the very buzzy Northern Quarter of Manchester.
After a short introduction by Katie Whitehouse, The Ciderhouse Rebellion took to the stage for a breathtaking set of just two songs (such is the nature of a showcase). Adam Summerhayes (Fiddle) and Murray Grainger – Accordionist set about their performance with all the vigour and brilliance necessary for such a condensed display of their work. Nothing is rehearsed, it is entirely ‘of the moment’ and a spontaneous almost other worldly understanding of and reaction to the playing of the other, at any given moment there is an intuitive change of pace, dynamic swell or passage of blistering ‘call and response’. As their far too short set drew to a close you could feel a collective drawing of breath from the packed hall, there was a palpable shared awe at what had just taken place.
Next up was black country singer/songwriter and multi instrumentalist Dan Whitehouse’ & Brooklyn based ‘Hendrix of the hammered dulcimer’ Max ZT. An unlikely collaboration made possible by the Global Music Match initiative, they have grasped the opportunity and run with it to such an extent they have incorporated the showcase into their current tour promoting their recent ’Ten Steps’ album release. The set is a haunting blend of Max’s meditative drifting dulcimer and Dan’s sonorous complex voice, whether spoken or sung its a rich and powerful tool. Dan incorporates a sample pad into the set, summoning in one moment the chants of the sun worshippers of Tokyo bay, where Dan is currently based and in another the ‘take off procedure’ intercom message to the passengers of the departing military aircraft, sitting on the runway of Kabul airport. At the heart of each song is the quality of Dan’s songwriting, at times stripped back, just voice and electric guitar it doesn’t need anything else but the inclusion of the Dulcimer and the understanding between these two extraordinary artists left the showcase audience with a feeling that they had witnessed a collaboration that is taking the genre into a new and exciting place.
The showcase finished with an extraordinary set by Anglo/Irish supergroup the Haar and a return to more familiar folk territory. Murray and Adam were joined by the formidable Irish partnership of multi award winning bodhrán player and percussionist Cormac Byrne and the magnetic presence of traditional Irish folk singer Molly Donnery, flame haired and blessed with a voice of extraordinary clarity and tone. It’s a powerful collaboration capable of a huge dynamic which at times threatened to take the roof off of the Hall and at others dropped to a whisper quiet drone punctuated by the haunting lilt of Molly’s exposed and crystalline vocal. The songs are familiar enough, but their treatment is special and perhaps only possible by this collection of extraordinary musicians.
The showcase was over all too quickly and I was left with a thirst to learn more of the clearly diverse and intelligently curated roster of artists at From the Whitehouse.
photos by Mike Ainscoe – At The Barrier and Katie Whitehouse