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Live From Old York: Courtney Pine, Zoe Rahman, Ben Bedford & Colum Sands

Martin Longley By

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The Illinois troubadour Ben Bedford made his debut at The Black Swan Folk Club on general election night, but he still managed to draw a reasonable gathering of the curious. Across nearly a decade, and three albums, Bedford has been shaping a distinctive songwriting style. His chiming guitar-picking style lay prickly beneath his smooth, resonant vocals, making ringing embellishments to songs that were mostly originals. He's deeply concerned with history, and mostly family history, as folk-singers should be, perhaps. He even managed to have his parents present, in the midst of their European sojourn. He gave his "John The Baptist" a percussively bluesy delivery, gradually recalling the mountain holler of Loudon Wainwright III. This could be a stylistic comparison, but Bedford is more subtly humorous than that older, more famous minstrel of cutting madcap anarchy. Even so, there's a similarity with Loudon's appropriation of blues, bluegrass and general old-timey traits, with Bedford's song about bluesman Charley Patton being particularly evocative of the LWIII character. One of his stand-out songs concerned The Fox, spinning the tale of an early environmentalist crusader and factory saboteur. Then there was Bedford's Civil War song, "Lincoln's Man," loaded with substantial lines. His songs are often ultra-specific, and specialised in their subjects, as with "Goodbye Jack," written to author Mr. London. Bedford is a youngster very much attuned to the past, which makes for a performance rich in literary content, as a bonus to the more expected anecdotal, songcrafting and musical skills.

Colum Sands
The Black Swan
May 14, 2015

Colum Sands is a radically different sort of troubadour, although still a master of historical observation. This son of Rostrevor, County Down sung-spoke his own introductory ditty, displaying his warm humour straight away. He began his career with The Sands Family, featuring siblings Anne, Tommy and Ben. He's also a record label owner and a radio broadcaster, amongst several other artistic activities.Sands has a gentle charm that almost fulfils the traditional perception of the mystical Irish creature, imbued with the pure essence of gratuitous tale-weaving. "I travel through hedges and ditches," he sang. "In search of the reason and rhyme." Sands soon revealed himself as the ultimate folk-guitaring sage, as he spun out his wise words. "They dream their dreams, take out their bins," he sings in "Two Angry Dogs." He plugged his book, on sale next to the room's entrance, but suggested that it might be best to merely fantasise about owning the tome. Always a wily, witty host, he took the almost capacity crowd on a tour of his life in Ireland and way beyond, his international touring activities lending Sands a deep connection with multiple cultures.

Photo Credit: Alfred George Bailey

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