Sunday, 3 November 2019

GIG REVIEW: Kim Lowings - Artrix, Bromsgrove. Saturday 2nd November 2019

The eleventh month has been the longest wait in any calendar year to catch a Kim Lowings live performance since first discovering her while opening for Jess Morgan in Stourbridge back in 2013. Indeed, the stretch is even longer as the previous performance seen was way back in the summer of 2018 when she appeared on the main stage at Beardy Folk Festival with the full Greenwood band. It is not that she has been totally inactive in this interim sixteen month period, although we are in a 'between album phase' that hopefully will be snapped at some point in the not too distant future. In light of the gap, there was something refreshing about seeing the live show again, even if this evening's format was a stripped back set up playing in a duo with her dad Andrew. To some extent, this also had its own advantages as Kim herself implied that it is good to revisit how the songs were born and take this side of her music out on the road. So the stage was set for a return to the studio performing area of Bromsgrove's Artrix arts centre and around an hour and half of what Kim Lowings does best.

This venue was also the host of the most recent album launch gig when WILD AND WICKED YOUTH was delivered to the world just over two years ago. Time is ticking along nicely in the breadth of material available for sharing at shows. Like many contemporary folk artists, Kim is at ease seeking three different song sources. Self composed material nestles neatly alongside traditional work that sees both arrangement and re-working. Smart covers have been generally limited in the past, but they seem to come more to the fore this evening. For the record, Kim's versions of Joni Mitchell's 'Carey' and Richard Thompson's 'From Galway to Graceland' have been heard before. This wasn't the case for the Show of Hands song 'Hallow Eve', topical to say the least. Another song not previously heard in a set before was the traditional piece 'So Early, Early in the Spring', made famous by Judy Collins.

The latter song was sung purely in a cappella style, the last of four modes she used on the evening to present her music. Instrumentally, she switched between guitar, piano and her trademark mountain dulcimer. The middle of this trio is one not always practically available at a lot of shows, so the piano is savoured when used. This evening Kim chose to share three of her own songs on the keys including a commissioned piece titled 'The Malverns', the Shakespeare inspired song written for the Company of Players project 'Song of the Philomel' and 'Firestone, taken off the last album.

From a songwriting perspective, early in the first set Kim presented a pair of newish songs, both yet to find a recorded home and written from a 'cause' angle, a source not really tapped into before. 'Call Me River' joined the growing band of society in general, and musicians in particular, focussing on mental health. On a more specific level, 'Go Tell the World' was inspired by an untold story of women suffering in Bangladesh and came across as a very impressively written and powerful song.

On the subject of new songs, 'Hells Own Town' had a particularly local theme which is best understood when in the presence of West Midlands folk, particularly those of us from the twin No.9 towns of Stourbridge and Halesowen. Yet another example of Kim's flair for contributing to the folk tradition of turning old themes into new songs.

While we have generally focussed so far on the recent past and intended future, there was still plenty of older material to entertain many fans who have supported her work over the years. She kicked off the evening with her version of 'Annie Laurie', housed on 2013's DEEPEST, DARKEST NIGHT EP and for a long time the go-to video when seeking something visually to link. Also from this record, we heard 'Off to Sea', a song that gets better with every version heard.

Kim Lowings regulars can have their usual singalong to her standard closer 'Away Ye Merry Lasses', 'Bold Riley' and 'Oh the Wind and Rain'. Also 'Maggie's Song', an original from a family story, is now staple on the setlist since first appearing on the HISTORIA album in 2015. To complete a superb night of song we heard 'The Newry Highwayman' and 'The Wood Wife'. There may have been the odd one missed here, but hopefully you get the point that this was an excellent and fulfilling show.

As previously stated, the Greenwood were given the night off leaving just Andrew on guitar, bouzouki and bodhran to provide the perfect foil to Kim's exquisite vocals and highly engaging approach to song interpretation. In some respects, the break between seeing them live acted as an energiser (bearing in mind I was probably pushing twenty shows/sets in five years), yet it firmly rammed home that the next break shouldn't be so long. Anyway with it highly likely that new recorded material will be with us in good time, circumstances will dictate matters.

The world of music is so vast and accessible that we can let our mind drift anywhere. Sometimes it is fulfilling to just focus a little closer to home. It helps you feel a little more grounded. Thankfully we have an artist with roots in our town to do just this.