Sidmouth FolkWeek Review: the Watershed Band, featuring Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin + The Drystones

Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin. Photo: Paul Strange.

Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin. Photo: Paul Strange. - Credit: Archant

There was a definite sense of occasion at this afternoon show at the Ham Marquee on FolkWeek 2016’s final day (Friday, August 5).

The Drystones. Photo: Paul Strange.

The Drystones. Photo: Paul Strange. - Credit: Archant

The musicians were clearly honoured to be performing on the festival’s premier stage at the end of a triumphant week, and they turned up the heat in response.

The Drystones – a likable and talented young duo from Somerset – opened proceedings. Ford Collier (guitar, penny whistle) and Alex Garden (fiddle, guitar and percussion) were full of passion, fire and brio, stoking up some thrilling music including The Hemp Jig, My Son John and Sea Sick Dee during their ferocious set. Best when they kept things traditional, occasionally they wandered into prog-folk territory, with unsettling, freeform, scratchy violin and FX. That aside, the two 20-year-olds produced an enjoyable first half to the concert.

The Watershed Band’s set was a blistering confirmation of just how far Phillip Henry (slide guitar/harmonica/vocals) and Hannah Martin (fiddle/vocals) have come during the past seven years.

The pair first met in alt-folk outfit Roots Union in 2009, later forming a duo which had busked on Sidmouth’s seafront at previous FolkWeeks.

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Now, having won BBC Radio 2’s Folk Awards Best Duo in 2014 and with three albums behind them, they humbly stepped out on to Sidmouth’s biggest stage, backed by their Watershed Band (bassist Matt Downer and percussionist James Taylor).

Opening with the title track of their current album, Watershed, Hannah’s beautiful voice soared high above the intriguing mix of folk and pop, tinged with provocative lyrics. They followed that with Stones – a brooding and powerful clarion call for gay rights, criticising a UKIP candidate for his homophobic comments.

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Phillip took centre stage for a delicate rendering of Yarrow Mill, the touching piece about how his grandparents met, while the delightful, almost jazzy, Conkers was another highlight.

Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning featured Phil’s breathy, bluesy harmonica, with Hannah rejoining him on stage for a terrific version of the chugging and mesmeric The Nailmaker’s Strike.

The show – slightly uneven in places due to its long length – came to a head with a haunting version of the punchy Silbury Hill, featuring extended solos from Matt Downer and James Taylor.

All in all a great show from two highly recommended outfits.

Paul Strange

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