Heidi Talbot presents Väsen, Floriane Blancke & Inge Thomson at the Queen’s Hall Edinburgh tonight brought some of the diverse talents of contemporary folk music together for a special one-off concert. The Queen’s Hall is celebrating its 40th anniversary (QH@40) as a music venue this year with a series of special events and, for this one, Heidi Talbot was asked to curate her own programme. With a performance and recording background that has seen her work with many of the established names in (and out of) the folk music genre at an international level, it was always going to be interesting as to who was going to be on-stage for this show, and I think here that Heidi has made a good selection of the obvious and not so obvious performers to be on stage with her for this QH@40 show.
As well as the obvious, and unseen from the public, work involved in curating this show, this was a busy evening for Heidi Talbot working not only as our opening performance artist, but also our compere for the evening. Heidi Talbot is always an interesting singer to listen to for me because it makes no difference whether the song is an old traditional one, one of her own songs (Angels Without Wings) or a contemporary one (If You Stay by Australian singer songwriter Simon Bruce) there is always that feeling of the song and the music having been around for a very long time. That skill of making the new feel old is perhaps one of the most difficult things for any folk singer to achieve. On stage with Heidi for this set was multi-instrumentalist Toby Shaer.
Following on from Heidi Talbot on-stage were the very individual talents of Inge Thomson who grew up on the tiny island of Fair Isle. As an artist, Inge is probably best known for her work with Karine Polwart, but this set with her music interwoven with sound loops and electronic “manipulation” could, in many people thoughts, be far removed from the comfort-zone of Heidi’s “traditional music” performance and maybe even stretching the limits of what they might even call “folk-music”.
Inge Thomson may be taking a different approach from many other musicians with her music, but stripped back to its basic elements, all the core principles of folk-music are there – dark stories of abusive relationships (“He Went to Church”), taking inspiration from the seas, the very nature around her, and stories of the “faerie folks”. Underneath all the electronic manipulations of her work, Inge seems to notice the connectivity of things so large and so small in nature that most of us just miss in our everyday lives. There is an obvious love of nature in all its wonders and the simple things in life in Inge’s songs plus a very obvious connection to the old and new myths of the “faerie folks”, explored in the collaborative album “Modern Fairies”. Who knows, perhaps Inge also has an awareness at least of the “in-between spaces” that some say allow travel for the faeries between their realm and ours.
Switching the musical programme again in total contrast to Inge Thomson’s music was the beautiful music of Floriane Blancke, a French harpist, fiddler, pianist, and vocalist. Floriane Blancke has studied classical, jazz and other musical genres, but since moving to Ireland to pursue a full time career in music, her talents combining with folk music’s sounds are creating new music that is ageless in its quality.
I have to admit here that, for me, the harp is one of the most beautiful sounding of all musical instruments, and when someone with the talents of Floriane Blancke is on stage playing one, it is easy to imagine that if there is a Heaven, why so many people connect the two together.
Closing our evening’s music with an hour long set that went by all too quickly, Swedish folk “super-group” Väsen. As a group, Väsen are also celebrating a major mile-stone this year, their 30th year together, and it is easy to understand why over the years this group has become one of the musical “gold standards” for so many folk musicians across the world.
Väsen are a trio of very individually talented musicians who have a unique sound that in part comes from a combination of instruments that together work so well. Making up the band Väsen are
Olov Johansson – nyckelharpa (a traditional Swedish musical instrument, a keyed fiddle)
Mikael Marin – 5 string viola
Roger Tallroth – 12-string guitar
As a band, Väsen are steeped in the folk music of their native Sweden and in particular music and traditions from their home, the Uppsala area of Sweden. As musicians, this band can play any type of music they want, but two things that everyone in the band loves are Polkas and Waltzes and ¾ time is at the heart of so much of their music. There is a constant flow of creativity and new music from Väsen and some of the music in this set, including “Typhoon Nozaki” and “Elsa”, is from their latest album “Rule of 3”
Watching Väsen perform on stage is always a pleasure as they make everything look so effortless, but underneath this illusion is complex music that is only possible because every individual in the band can concentrate on their own work knowing that the other members know instinctively when to add their own talents to any song. It is always interesting too to note that, unlike many other groups out there, no one in this group is ever wanting to give a demonstration of solo virtuosity (although there are few musicians out there to match their skill levels); no one has a need for that, and although each member could easily do so, there is that rare ability to play exactly what is needed and not a note more for any song. That instinctive ability to achieve this is always something magical to watch with Väsen on-stage.
An enjoyable evening in the company of diverse musical talents. Happy 40th birthday to The Queen’s Hall.
Review by Tom King