Down the ages the troubadour journey goes on. The Churchfitters came to our village. Sitting bum-numbed on the pews of the church grateful that someone on a November night had remembered to put the heating on, we gazed as three unlikely looking characters took to the makeshift stage. The narrow space was piled high with instruments; some of them homemade. The curmudgeon in me wondered whether they were some sort of novelty act – entertaining us with the clever but trivial skill that comes from being able to get a tune out of a vacuum cleaner or a toilet brush. And I wondered as villagers struggled in through the damp mistiness what any way they were going to make of a night of folk music.
But the grumpy-buggerishness was soon banished. The Churchfitters – the Mighty Churchfitters are a great band! There is the best of English folk music in their dna, a really sinewy sound, but fresh and up to date and wonderfully percussive.
Rosie Short who handles most of the singing has that wonderful rare thing an English female folk voice. Not fairy falldee-ra-diddle all ethereal innocence and virginal, she sings assertively with warmth, passion, humour and power. A musical storytelling voice in the great tradition of Sandy Denny. (Made me wonder there is such a thing another traditional female archetype to be compared with the Celtic elfin queen?)
She is aided and abetted by Boris on Bass – bass in the widest sense of the word as one instrument was made up of Mercedes Benz hub caps, another a an old cooking pot, another a kind of African piano with keys made of hacksaw blades. But the important thing was the invention was not a whimsical thing in itself but resulted in a great sound that drove things along.
And on the other side playing a wonderful fiddle is Chris – long grey hair in a pony tail, quiet grin on his face, conjuring up some wood and horsehair magic. Slipping effortlessly between styles I suspect he practices a lot (I hope!)
It was possibly the best performance I have seen by a folk band in ages. Lots of light and shade, pace and reflection performed with a real presence – even a kind of ‘Shadows dancing dad routine’ (What is going on I saw Peter Gabriel do this last week!)
The audience loved it and I moved with rare feelings of beneficence bought their latest cd. I listened to it somewhat nervously the next day. I know too well how the magic in a song played live can do die a soggy death on the tracks of a recording. No worries here as on the second track, the fiddle tune clattered into life and any suspicion of twee-rah-diddle disappeared: they had cracked that challenge too.