Rychard Carrington reports on Sam Lee & Friends and C Joynes - The Junction, Cambridge, 5 March 2013

Junction 2, The

Our evening got off to a magnificent start with a truly splendid set of tunes by Histon guitar virtuoso C Joynes. He describes his style as 'anglo-naive and contemporary parlour music'. The set included traditional numbers, and was intricate, atmospheric, stimulating and altogether masterful.


Sam Lee (vocals, jew's harp and shruti box) then came on with his 'Friends', namely Jonah Brody (koto and ukulele), Steve Chadwick (trumpet), Flora Curzon (violin), Francesca Terberg (cello) and Camilo Tirado (tabla and percussion). An extra Friend was Thomas McCarthy, a traditional singer from a London Irish traveller family. It's rare to hear a traditional singer who is not a part of folk revival culture but someone who has sung traditional songs learnt from his mother all his life. He looks the part: a modest, down-to-earth man of the world. McCarthy did several unaccompanied songs during the set, In between times he sat impassively at the back of the stage while the others performed. His performances were undoubtedly powerful: a compelling presence, strong voice and rich traditional material.


Sam Lee has done considerable 'field' research, locating traditional singers from traveller communities and learning their songs. Nearly all his set came from such sources, and he pays due credit to his teachers. His dedication to and enthsiasm for the tradition is perhaps his strongest asset. Given his passion for unadorned folk song, the rather refined arrangements of the Friends (see list of instruments above) were a little surprising, and Lee's mannerisms suggest something of his arty background, which obviously contrasts with the traveller culture he champions. The style is elegant, polished and musically subtle, but for me the performances lacked the verve of either sparse trad folk or ballsy folk-rock. The renditions didn't quite convey the strength of the typically melodramatic and mournful ballads performed.


Sam announced that 'we don't do false encores', a bold and rather admirable stance. But somehow this move was of a piece with an approach which seems exemplary on paper but didn't quite hit the mark in practice. Lee is certainly not someoine to write off, but I found him a little harder than I expected to assimilate and endorse with a straightforward thumbs-up.


Sam Lee's website

C Joynes on Myspace


Writer: Rychard Carrington