Review: Hannah James and the JigDoll Ensemble at Sidmouth Folk Festival

Hannah James. Picture: Elly Lucas

Hannah James. Picture: Elly Lucas - Credit: Archant

Dancer, singer, accordion-player and songwriter Hannah James first came to Sidmouth 20 years ago in the days of The Sidmouth International Music Festival.

It was partly this experience, she told us, that instigated her interest in, and love of, music from Eastern Europe and other parts of the world.

She played at the Ham Marquee on Saturday, August 3.

Her JigDoll Ensemble includes Estonian bassist Marti Tarn and the brilliant Hungarian percussionist Andras Des. Glasgow fiddle-player Kate Young is usually part of the ensemble, but on this occasion Claudia Schwab took her place - learning the music especially for this one gig. Her voice blended beautifully with Hannah's, and her fiddle with the cello playing of Toby Kuhn, with whom Hannah is also appearing at this year's Folk Week. She is also, of course, a member of the wonderful Lady Maisery.

This is a show of incredible versatility and skill. I had previously known Hannah as a great singer, virtuoso accordionist and amazing clog-dancer; this new collaboration also showcases her skill as a song-writer. The songs included in this show - and on the JigDoll CD, The Woman and her Words - address issues such as the climate change action being taken by young people, the Florida school shooting and the response of the students who narrowly escaped, and 'toxic masculinity'. The Canal Song is a beautiful account of the green space running through Hannah's home town of Leicester, with lovely delicate accordion accompaniment, and Meet With Me is introduced by a haunting fiddle and cello duet. This makes it all sound very serious, but mouth-music - a trademark feature of Lady Maisery's repertoire - dance and percussion are, of course, an integral part of the show: looping (often over-used and distracting, in my view) was often used here to subtle effect. Andras Das also made impressive use of a metal milk-jug and body percussion in duet with Hannah's rhythmic clogging - her energy and athleticism are a wonder to behold,and her stage-presence is warm, easy and natural. The Ensemble will be on tour in the autumn to launch the new album - do catch them if you can.

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