It’s folks ability to tell and re-tell stories which has always been it’s selling point. Whether it’s the mythology surrounding how the robin got it’s red breast or the fable of the wren rising to become the King Of Birds, tonight reconfirms Karine Polwart as a master story teller, forging what feels like an impressive work of dot-to-dots as the night progresses. Besides the plethora of bird references, she also explores home a great deal with Sticks and Stones making it’s way into the set as well as the hugely emotive Salter’s Road, which stands out as a highlight of the night.
What marks Karine Polwart apart though, to an extent, is her willingness to match whimsy with guts, unafraid to tell stories which explore politics and life in a way others seem to fear – Cover Your Eyes is a protest of sorts against the Trump Corporation’s intrusive golf course in Aberdeenshire and Baleerie Baloo remembers the life of Jane Haining, one of only a handful of Scots to be arrested and put to death in Nazi concentration camps during WWII. There are lighter moments with the likes of Tinsel Show and Terminal Star offering something of a reprieve, but she is never afraid to tackle challenging material and doesn’t shy away from writing her own history as she goes.
With Karine’s brother turned band member, Steven, at home with a 5 day old baby to care for, tonight we’re treated to a replacement in the form of Rachel Newton on harp and occasional fiddle. She combines effortlessly with Karine and Inge Thomson and in the end leaves me questioning how the songs ever worked on stage without her. This is particularly apparent in Tears For Lot’s Wife, with the bass of the harp giving a far more sinister edge than it’s album counterpart.
Similarly it’s impossible to imagine her without Inge, whose ability to subtly transform the songs with intricate harmonies and ethereal backing vocals leaves the moments where Karine sings with just a guitar for accompaniment seeming almost flat. However, tonight doesn’t just stand to reconfirm this partnership, it also shows Inge off as an artist in her own right. As she takes the stage for a solo number her voice seems more powerful than it has when I’ve heard her play before, leaving me hoping for an imminent follow up to Shipwrecks & Static.
Though towards the end of the night Karine’s voice gives way part way through King of Birds her ability to carry on almost seamlessly marks her as a mature and experienced performer. She may joke that the audience would be lucky not to have seen her in the early days, but I find that hard to believe.
Images copyright © Jo Cox. All rights reserved.