Nancy Elizabeth - 93 Feet East
Live Review

Nancy Elizabeth – 93 Feet East, London

It’s cold out on the London streets this evening. The walk from Liverpool Street to Brick Lane is a brisk one; you can tell that winter is on its way, and the shops call out Christmas to you as you walk past them in the withered shadows of the darkening dusk. It’s a beautiful, cold, melancholy night, and you’re wrapped up in gloves and scarves and coats. You meander your way through the East London streets, past the bohemian ‘indie’ haven of Rough Trade East and Spitalfields Market; all at once you are reminded of places you love, and have been. It’s a special night out there, but in the safe, warm, softly lit confines of 93 Feet East the air is frozen in time, hanging three feet from your lips; the Icelandic feel of an unassuming vodka bar reaches out to you in your solitary state. There are people milling around; students, people out for a drink and some music to warm their souls, dressed in woolly hats and woolly mittens. Something quaint is happening herewith.

There’s a bit of a resurgence in folk these days; it’s been happening for a while; existing mainly in the shadows. Bands are returning to more ‘roots’ orientated output, often shunning release schedules, often relying on the mighty power of word of mouth to collect fans, often employing the DIY ethos once associated with punk to get their records out in the marketplace. They often assail themselves with small, ethical labels with the same dynamics as them; they are often spoken about in whispered tones like a secret band shared only between friends. Tonight’s gig at 93 Feet East is about folk. You can smell it in the dusty, chilled air. There’s a feel of authenticity, a feel that something ‘real’ is bubbling under the surface of the Bohemian wonderland that is Brick Lane, a place where people appear to want to be seen, a place where people scream at you for wearing Cowboy Boots like you’re trying to be original. It’s a place that has a certain sense of artificiality attached to it, to sell itself to that crowd. Tonight, surprisingly, there is less of that and more ‘real’ people with unfashionably hemmed jeans and uncouth couture but maybe it’s just the cold causing such hallucinations.

Thee, Stranded Horse, Nancy’s support for the evening, is a surprise, boasting an array of interesting looking implements- a Kora and a nylon strung acoustic guitar for starters. He plays beautifully; murmuring lyrics in a mix of French and English. The music is stripped down to its bare essentials; the two aforementioned instruments played in turn. It is harrowing and beguiling; if not quaint. It is particularly indicative of the folk ethos, stripping music to an acoustic level, using the mastery of the musician over his instrument to inspire. Yann Tambour is the unassuming voice and soul of Thee, Stranded Horse; displaying the fierce concentration necessary to consume oneself wholly in one’s own sound à la fellow folkster Devendra Baarnhart. It would be unfair suggest TSH is attempting to force his feet into Baarnhart’s shoes; but such a comparison is not fields far-out. For in his melodies, and sweet rhythmic interludes, unfortunately sneaks the famous fashionable face who got there first.

Likewise, Nancy employs the two instrument mantra; boasting professional competence on both the acoustic guitar and the harpsichord. Her voice is sullen and melancholic. She is unassuming but vengeful in her application. She introduces her songs; they are meaningful, carefully constructed tracks, not something that has been hashed up in some studio to meet a release schedule. ‘I’m Like the Paper’ shows Nancy’s precise strokes of the harpsichord matching her imperfect but resolute voice brought forth from the dank dark of the stage; in comparison, ‘Coriander’ is more a tale of ‘Parsley, Sage Rosemary and Thyme’ as exemplified on primary school folksong ‘Scarborough Fair’. ‘I Used to Try’ boasts an acoustic crescendo to warm the nether regions of your heart; all at once stern and figurative but blended into a thought provoking soliloquy.

The thing about folk is that it unwillingly grabs at places you didn’t know you had. It’s never cool; it’s rarely haughty; it’s the kind of music you ‘appreciate’ whether that’s from sitting in a darkened bar alone, letting the music seep into your heart, or from listening in a room when the lights are dimmed and you want to absolve yourself in thought. Either way, the folk scene is gathering momentum and Nancy Elizabeth and Thee, Stranded Horse are welcome additions to the family.

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