Rychard Carrington reports on The Willows, The Malingerers and Faith Taylor - The Boathouse, Cambridge, 19 February 2011

The Willows
The Willows E.P Launch


This evening - The Willows' EP launch party -  felt like the beginning of something special. For a start, The Boathouse was sold out in advance, most impressively for a new band. More importantly, The Willows quietly exuded talent and musical charm with warmth and assurance. This seems like the band which will deliver Jade Rhiannon's considerable potential as a singer. Judging by this performance, they are ready for big success.


The two support slots seemed well chosen to produce an evening of acoustic music of complementary variety as well as high quality. Each of the three acts has the potential to make a much bigger time.


This millenium, singer-songwriters with guitars have had their work cut out to prevent their audience from thinking 'not another singer-songwriter with a guitar, taking their precious emotions and mediocre philosophising too seriously'. So it is to her credit that Faith Taylor impressed. In fact the sparse intensity of a completely solo artist has a special power, which Faith tapped into successfully, by virtue of a potent, accomplished guitar style, a compelling strong voice and articulate, heartfelt lyrics. Faith is definitely at least as good as many singer-songwriters who have attained a lot more success. I hope she gets the break she merits.


The Malingerers play old-time country blues. They look the part thoroughly, with waistcoats establishing the style code. They bring out the charming character of this music perfectly, sometimes with contrasting modern lyrical themes (notably Depression's Killing Me). There's wit aplenty, yet they don't  extend into caricature. The beauty and sheer musical richness of their repertoire is conveyed rather wonderfully. The perfect garden party band.


While it is easy to focus on the delightfully seductive vocals of Jade (who writes most of the songs), each member of The Willows contributes considerably, and the overall blend sounds judiciously honed. Pru Ward's fiddle is integral, contributing a poignant strength which suits the songs so well. Cliff Ward and Ben Savage establish a solid base of acoustic guitar, replete with numerous neat flourishes, and Cliff's occasional electric guitar fits in surprisingly well, comlementing Pru's fiddle in particular. In other acts, percussion often jars and intrudes in acoustic ballads, but Steve Maclachlan contributes a quiet power that fleshes out the sound considerably. There is potential for exciting instrumental work-outs, which could develop further. As it is, whereas so often less is better in folk, the overall sound here does more than add to the power of the vocals; it creates a texture of gentle but deep appeal.


The Willows played eleven songs, all written within the group, and each one equally well composed. They are evidently ready to produce a strong album. The emotional character of the music is pleasant, but sensitive and thoughtful; light but not shallow; easy to enjoy, but satisfying in a way that repays concentration. The four tracks on the EP (of which Searching Within Chaos, Down River and Out Of Our Hands featured  tonight, each recreated successfully) appeal a little more deeply each time I listen. New songs such as Dear Lily (about Jade's aunt, who recently passed away at the age of 100) and Cliff's Cap In Hand are numbers with which I am eager to become more familiar.The Willows' lyrics are always thoughtful, sometimes dealing with subject matter beyond what one might expect: The Worker's War and Cap In Hand champion workers' rights, while Out Of Our Hands (the encore) concerned the Battle of Solferino.


 Not least, The Willows are evidently nice poeple, and evidently a band who clearly enjoy playing, and enjoy playing with each other. All in all a thoroughly good vibe is produced. Lets hope they go far, for there is a large potential audience who would appreciate  their music.


Writer: Rychard Carrington