Rychard Carrington reports on The Churchfitters and Karen Johnson & Tony Clark – Cambridge Folk Club, 27 January 2010

Cambridge Folk Club


According to Karen Johnson, Phil Beer claimed that Emmanuel United Reformed Church had the best acoustics of any church he'd ever played in. Tonight they were indeed superb, and along with the general splendour of the building, significantly enhanced my appreciation of the performances. Mr. Beer didn't make a similar claim for the church's temperature: shall we just say it significantly enhanced my appreciation of my duffelcoat.

Karen Johnson, of Bishop's Stortford, and Tony Clark, Cambridge Folk Club regular, gave us a very impressive set, featuring songs by contemporary songwriters, including two each by Boo Hewerdine and Richard Thompson. Musical accompaniment was provided on keyboards, guitar and shruti box (Indian drone instrument). All of the songs were very strong, making a case for performers to select compositions by the masters, rather than try to compete by writing their own material. Apart from selection of songs, the duo's biggest strength is its vocals: Karen in particular has a beautiful voice, which brings out the sensitivity of the songs' sentiments most successsfully. I'm sure the songwriters would have been proud.

I suppose, by definition, a church is a fitting venue for the headline act. Maybe a summer festival might have matched their predominantly jaunty, uptempo music a little better; yet perhaps the challenge of the cold enhanced through contrast my appreciation of the warmth their music generated. As with many of the best folk acts (but without the dour element of many English ones), The Churchfitters exemplified the inherently positive spirit that makes music one of the very best aspects of our culture. Top marks, without reservation, to their easy-going yet tight and energetic sound. It was a set full of character and vitality, packed with variety, good humour and subtle touches.

To describe the quartet as Rosie Short on vocals, Chris Short on fiddle, Topher Loudon on guitar and Boris Lebret onn bass is far too reductive, for between them they played about as many intruments as they played numbers: the musical texture was excitingly rich and unpredictable throughout. Chris even proved to be a virtuoso on the saw. The Churchfitters have been through many changes since their formation in 1978, including a relocation from East Anglia to Brittany, and the sad death of founder and songwriter Anthony McCartan in 2004. Whatever their history, though, the current quartet really deliver. Rosie, Chris and Topher all contributed compositions, and traditional numbers also featured. There were several dance numbers, a Suffolk ghost story, and even a thrilling version of the Test Match Special theme music. All in all a thoroughly superb performance.


Writer: Rychard Carrington