The Old Flames at the Open Arts Festival

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The Old Flames at the Open Arts Festival

Review

It was back last March when I was privileged to be present at the live debut of The Old Flames: as part of the Open Arts Festival on Leamington Bandstand.

Fourteen months later, here they were on the same stage, headlining this year's similar event, and although I've seen them (and reported on them) in the meantime, it gives me a chance to reflect on how far they've come in the interim.

Well the first thing to report is a tweak to the lineup: still incorporating vocalists & multi-instrumentalists Jane "Titine Lavoix" Ward, Holly Hewitt & Wes Stanton, whereas last year they also featured the latter's Folly Brothers colleague Alfie Amadeus on guitar, this time the quartet was completed by Holly's former Honky Tonk Rose collaborator, Malc Evans who offers not only a fourth set of lead vocals to the band, but even more instrumental flavours.

This flexibility & democracy in fact adds much to the appeal they've been developing: not only do you get four different lead vocalists (and Wes sings lead far more than he originally did) plus harmonies in various combinations, but as Jane also offers fiddle and percussion, Wes his usual double bass or banjo & Malc a range of guitar, banjo, ukulele or bass (when Wes is otherwise engaged), the permutations of arrangements is most impressive. The only thing I missed was seeing Holly playing stand-up bass in addition her percussion role.

Equally the change from Alfie to Malc has meant a parallel switch from electric to acoustic vibes, meaning the entire set is now swung more towards the folkier, sweeter end of bluegrass rather than the more rockabilly part of the spectrum.

The set has evolved too: if you are playing the Bandstand on a Summer Sunday afternoon, you are in front of people who won't necessarily have caught you before (I watched from by the sound desk, expertly managed by Chris Field so over heard repeated enquiries as to who the band were from new converts) & so the range of obscure & better known covers rendered bluegrass style gave some points of reference for them, with originals mixed seamlessly in. (Talking of the crowd, it was something of a shock to be reminded that a few people seem to spend their Summer Sunday afternoons in the park drinking packs of Stella Artois & hurling constant fairly incomprehensible nonsense at the band to no-one's amusement. It must have taken Holly by surprise as she admitted to not having prepared her heckle response kit: however Jane managed her characteristic, acerbic response which drew as much applause as the music).

Confidence too was to the fore: last year the set was delivered with style, heart & grace but also a few disclaimers as to how prepared they felt: this time the band flew like the words of several of their songs suggested (the perfect close harmonies of "I'll Fly Away" would melt the flintiest of hearts). A real afternoon delight.

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