The Kenlis Arms, which is the venue for Garstang Unplugged, seems to be gaining a reputation as a place worth playing on the UK folk scene. According to Miranda Sykes she heard about it from Philip Henry and Hannah Martin who played to a sell-out crowd there last year. I don't know if it was quite a sell-out last night but there was certainly a good crowd in to see Miranda and Rex Preston.
Support came from young singer songwriter Hayley Collins who played us about half a dozen of her own compositions on the piano including a couple from her Forbidden Fruit EP. One song was described by her as being about the difficult transition from youth to adulthood. As she put it, she's “a bit crap at being an adult,” but she is far from being rubbish on the piano, her style having similarities to Amanda Palmer's keyboard playing in Dresden Dolls and to Daisy Chapman.
Unlike at other venues, there was quite a short gap between the support and the main act. No sooner had Hayley's piano been removed than Miranda and Rex took to the stage. I've seen some footage of them on YouTube with both of them very smartly turned out but Rex was very casually dressed at the Kenlis Arms - perhaps his waistcoat was at the dry cleaners. So they made quite a visual contrast with Miranda smartly dressed while Rex was in jeans with a scarf tied round his neck. Not that this mattered as their musical abilities were well matched with Miranda on her double bass for most of the gig and Rex alternating between mandolin and bouzouki.
In her introduction to the Kate Rusby song 'Old Man Time', Miranda told us about her early days – she started playing bass at the age of eight – and how she found this track on one of her parents' records. This was one of a number of songs written by others which they played, with the name Boo Hewerdine getting a couple of mentions. He contributed two songs to their last album, 'Windowbox' and 'Me and My Sister The Moon', both of which we heard last night.
We were also treated to a number of new songs from their third album which they have titled “Swan Song”. Despite the title, they are not planning on splitting up any time soon which is just as well as they are quite possibly the only double bass and mandolin duo around and are both very proficient players. Miranda has a beautiful voice which you don't really appreciate when she tours with Show of Hands. Talking of whom, she said she hopes to have copies of the new album to sell on the Show of Hands autumn tour.
From the new material played at Garstang I'd say their third album will be worth the wait. They make a very happy looking duo on stage with Miranda having a smile on her face most of the time and there was an amusing incident at the start of their second set. The compere had lowered Rex's microphone to do the mid-set raffle and during their first song after the break Miranda tried to raise the height of the mic by flicking it upwards. There was a certain phallic look to it which caused much laughter both on stage and in the audience.
Other highlights included the Nina Simone classic 'I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free', 'Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight' and 'Sweet Pea/Mean To Me', the latter featuring Miranda on ukulele, which closed their most enjoyable set. And for fans of Philip Henry and Hannah Martin you'll be please to hear that they are returning to Garstang Unplugged in September. I'd advise you to book early!