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Live From Birmingham: Jeffrey Lewis, Jesús Fernández, Kadialy Kouyaté & Peatbog Faeries

Martin Longley By

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The Peatbog Faeries hail from way up in the north of Scotland, on the Isle Of Skye, where the urge to fish is so compulsive that it's causing a delay in the release of the band's next album. They've been together for two decades, or possibly a few years more, which might account for their folk fusion bent remaining true to the sound of the 1990s dancefloor, in the days when crusty hippies willingly tangled dreadlocks in their bagpipes. Here in Birmingham, the still-enthusiastic audience appeared to be closer in nature to a mainline folk crowd. During the course of the evening's first hour, the attendance evolved from sparse to fulsome and wildly charged, even whilst clashing with an unnameable sporting event. The Faeries certainly command a following who seemed clued-in to this repertoire, and who were eager to start up their pogo-ing steps from the outset. This was a genuinely surprising reception for a combo that has been around for a long time, and whose fortunes might have been expected to be in decline by now. Of course, this electric vibration was also a direct result of their playing abilities, assisted by the venue's crisply pumping sound system.

Peter Morrison is the frontman. Clad in kilt and hoisting the bagpipes, he's dominant both visually and sonically. He expressed a softer personality when playing his selection of whistles, with this variation providing some dynamic level-changes within an approach that's largely ruled by stomping and skirling. The bedrock of their instrumentals is provided by bassist Innes Hutton and drummer Stu Haikney, with a tendency towards somewhat metronomic hammering. This might be anathema to appreciators of syncopation, but it succeeds as a folk-dancing goad. Keyboardist Graeme Stafford is responsible for the electronic bulk, although the band now seem less reliant on their old techno influences, heading in a more organic direction. After all of their various detours into trance, rock and reggae, they've settled on a fusion that centres around Scottish roots music itself, the fusion element coming from their general delivery, with a hardened amplified sound. The style remains unsullied Celtic.

The second set relieved what might be the combo's main problem, derailing the ever-present density by featuring Morrison and fiddler Ross Couper in an unaccompanied duo. The return of their bandmates was lent greater power by their temporary absence, giving the eardrums a respite. The Faeries also snuck in a couple of slower, gentler tunes. Then, they entered a brief South African phase, highlighting Tom Salter's guitar chops, at first with just him and the drums, then down to the man alone, which was a curious piece of minimalism, explained by his cohorts returning to the stage armed with glasses of red wine. Then it was time for the final overloaded onslaught of folk'n'roll, bullish but beautiful in its decorated driving.

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