Kara at the Great Knight Folk Club
A great night at the Great Knight
As Ray Davies said at the 2017 Radio 2 Folk Music awards in the amazing atmosphere in the grand Royal Albert Hall, "Whilst mainstream pop music grabs the headlines, it is in the small clubs, the backrooms and pubs up and down the country that folk music keeps British tradition alive." Just such a club is the Great Knight Folk Club which meets at the Old White Hart Inn in Northampton twice a month (www.greatknightfolkclub.co.uk. The host for the evening on April 4th., was Linda Watkins and she was delighted to introduce Kara.
Last year the band Kara went through a metamorphosis. Fifty percent of the band called it a day, not through any major disagreement, but more as a realignment than much else. They are back and the sound is bigger and they are magnificent. Pete Morton plays guitar instead of Ben Honey, much of whose material they still use and Phil Underwood plays melodeon (and it turns out, banjo) in place of Gary Holbrook's accordion. Kate Rouse still occupies the hammered dulcimer, whilst Daria Kulesh takes lead vocals.
It is a fuller sound because all four of them sing, producing four part harmonies that captivate the room. As it is claimed on their website, Kara retain their unique sound combining original material with traditional folk for a rich mix of songs and tunes; hammered dulcimer, guitar and melodeon back the striking lead vocals in original material laced with folk music from around the world. The word Kara means many things in many languages: black in Turkish, punishment in Russian... and caramel pancake in French.
At the start of their set, Daria called for a moment of quiet to remember the recent bombing on a metro train in St Petersburg. It was a short time to reflect that the attacks in London, Paris and Berlin show that Europe is seen to be a soft target and that we all have a responsibility to stand up to those that would do us harm. So it was with some relief that the lilting intro of "Rusalka" a story of a monk who lived by a lake who was allured by a naked temptress who emerged from the waters. Eventually he succumbed and was never seen again. This story was originally written in Russian by Alexander Pushkin and set to a tune composed by Daria Kulesh.
Back to the English countryside now for "Scarborough Fair" in which audience participation was encouraged. Some of course needed no such encouragement. "Safely Wed." followed which is a tale of sorcery and death as our heroine (Auntie Nina) finds herself trapped in a bad marriage and unusually at the time was allowed to divorce by the authorities. Many of Daria's songs emanate from her own family's stories which themselves are fascinating. Her solo gigs are generally half story and half song. They each are based on true events. From this song we were taken straight into a hammered dulcimer solo from Kate Rouse. It is not often that a travelling band will carry such an instrument and it's percussive but melodious sound has the effect of lifting the audience's spirits.
"Adrienne," a Ben Honey composition tells the tale of a young girl who visits a folk club, and sings a song of such beauty that no-one can forget it. but soon she is gone with her old and mellow guitar and never to be seen again. She apparently had a voice like a skylark. This song brought forth strong images of just such a girl to mind.
At that point Phil Underwood put down (one of his) melodeon(s) and pick up a five string banjo which he claims to have bought having been charmed by the salesman in a Denmark Street music shop. Finding himself outside on the pavement, carrying said instrument, he decided to set about learning to play it. He then proceeded to combine with Kate as she plucked her dulcimer rather than hammered it to produced a very authentic Japanese sound. This while Daria sang a song based on a Japanese fairy tale about a man who had a pet sparrow. He made such a fuss of this bird that his wife got jealous.
"Carousel Waltz" is a true story of a street dealer in the sort of melancholy that brings people down and takes away their souls. However like many, Charlie is a victim too. the refrain indicates the circle around which the sufferers travel in a never ending journey. "Round and round on the carousel, with their special friends, a broken promise to yourself is sometimes hard to mend." Another Ben Honey song.
Transported back to Russia by Kate striking out on the dulcimer into a gypsy tune which picked up by Pete Morton's guitar to such good effect that in the minds eye, Cossacks can be seen dancing.
We stay in the area for "Tamara's Wedding" which is set in the Caucasus, amongst the exotic mountains. It tells the tale of a bride whose potential groom is ambushed on his way to the ceremony and fails to arrive. However his ghost appears to entice her away from the bounds of earth. She goes with him and ends up in hell. Notwithstanding all the misery the music seems to be typical of a Russian wedding anyway.
We were then expected to join in a Russian Army song - in Russian! Let's see if I can get this right, "Yuba Brazi Yuba, Yoba Brazi Shee" either way it was great fun. The song itself came from 300 years ago was basically sarcasm on the part of the soldiers on the effectiveness of their commanders. The band produce fine four part harmonies in the chorus and Kate supported Daria in the verses. Their voices do blend very well.
Although the set seems heavy on Russian influence, the north Causcasus is where Daria originates from and her songs and stories are authentic. That said, "Union Street" has a very English rural feel to it. The essence of the song is that there are many Union Streets in the world and they are usually a link not only between two places, can also be between two people as in a marriage. This gentle waltz has a romantic feel to it and contrast greatly with the stories of blood and despair in Ben Honey's other songs. It breaks into a lively dance and ends up as cheerful celebration.
I remember a couple of years ago being on the dock at Weymouth on the day when one of the fishing boats hadn't returned. This brings home the real price of fish. Phil Underwood introduce his "Leigh Fishermen" based on a true story. "From the old town of Leigh, I bade farewell to my dear, the sea was calm and the sky was clear. The forecast was clear with a small chance of rain, Little did I think I would not return again." The melodeon adds atmosphere to this shanty with gentle guitar and dulcimer with backing vocals from the rest of the band.
The Dulcimer takes the lead in "Mermaid's Lullaby" a tales of romance between a shipwrecked duclimer player who falls in love with a mermaid, put they have to part on the shore as she cannot follow him. This is originally from Rimsky-Korsakov's opera "Sadko" but here is given a proper folky treatment.
We move into English territory with a bang now with two tunes from the pen and melodeon of Phil Underwood. "Hollingbourne" and "Broadhurst Gardens" to which it can be imagined a Morris dancing side entertaining the crowds. In my mind I was taken back to many a canal boat rally in my forty years as a boater by the images drawn to mind by these tunes.
"Stormteller" will summon up a storm to envelope you and drench your soul -if you deserve it. The refrain (abridged) gives the warning "Pitter Patter, don't wait too long, the storm is coming along." It gets a lot more threatening with promises of dark skies, Hail, thunder and worse.
There were of course demands for an encore and twice in a week we have seen a gig where a band have chose to end their set with a gentle thoughtful number rather than a rousing song. Is this a new trend I wonder? Certainly it is different. In Kara's case the song was "Maid of Light" which is dedicated to the memory of two musicians of note, Allan MacPherson and Terry Ferdinand. It was quiet and loving tribute.
It was the first time I had seen Kara in their new configuration and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I liked the fuller sound and particularly liked the fact that Ben Honey's work still figures highly in their performances. Their latest CD "Some Other Shore can be bought direct from www.karafolkband.com
In support was that doyen of folk clubs for many years, Linda Watkins. She brought along Simon Loake to pay alongside her. Linda set off with some clock watching as most of us at some time find ourselves "Behind The Clock". Next came a song which she wrote about her son, "Balloons". she had to wait 22years before she felt able to do. She ends up asking the question all parents at some time ask, "Could I reach you, could I teach you anything?"
"Lies with Honesty" is about the agenda that mainstream news organisations sometimes pursue in how they give us information. Fake news perhaps? The amplified guitars and (sometimes) mandolins were a good match in the room and I particularly enjoyed the rendition of "Only A Woman's Heart." which of course is an Eleanor McEvoy original. This set ended with a lively Steve Tiltson "Slip Jig A Reel" a tale of betrayal and murder. A happy lot these folk singers aren't they?
Opening the whole show was Sheila Mosley. Her song which followed seeing the news about children living in tents in Aleppo whilst we in the west sit watching TV eating "Toast And Marmalade" (and another cup of tea). It brings home how insulated we sometimes are from events in other parts of the world. "Any Heart Will Do" reflects the search for a love, which may take some time. Sheila finished with a Grace Petrie song "If There's A Fire In Your Heart" singing acapella she requested that we "take my hand in here tonight." Sadly that wasn't possible we were all too busy applauding.
It was my first visit the Great Knight Folk Club and it was an enjoyable night.