JOSIENNE CLARKE AND BEN WALKER
All photos by Nick Barber
12th April 2017: Biddulph Up In Arms welcomes BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winners Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker, and I find myself lucky enough to join them as a support act.
Held at The Biddulph Arms, the night is actually one part of Josienne and Ben’s tour, as they head up and down the country over the next month or so. It seems that the local folk enthusiasts of Biddulph are out in full force as the doors open for the evening and the small room is soon brimming with 100 people, claiming seats at the front to make sure they’ve got the perfect view for what hopes to be a promising night.
Once everyone is comfortably seated with drinks in hand, I make my way to the stage where my piano sits patiently waiting to be played and listened to. I open the night with what I call my ‘most upbeat’ song, A Year From Now, letting the audience know that the rest of the set will be melancholy so it’s best to make the most of this song, which gathers a nice little chuckle from the crowd. I’ve taken to playing my favourite Joni Mitchell song A Case of You when I play solo so I thought it would be the appropriate setting to include, before I continue to play my other originals Abigail, Drown and With Time. It’s a wonderful feeling to play to a full room of appreciative ears, sitting in a somewhat eerie silence to listen to what I have to say and sing. The audience continue for the rest of the evening to be as equally welcoming and warming for Josienne and Ben.
A folk duo, Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker have been writing and covering folk songs since they formed in 2011. Ben’s talent as a guitar player is mesmerising and combined with Josienne’s haunting mournful vocals the perfect folk sound is created. A couple of songs into their set I am gripped by the first cover of the evening, The Banks of The Sweet Primroses. A traditional English Folk song, it has been influential to the folk scene especially since the 1950’s and it fits perfectly into their set. It is also the song they recorded live for BBC Radio 2’s Folk Awards in 2015 to which I shall leave a little YouTube link here! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCWTHwUlyRw
Not only is their sound captivating and beautiful, but as the night unravels Josienne lightens the melancholy mood with her funny and sarcastic wit that she uses in between songs to explain the reasoning and meanings behind her song writing. These stories are as much part of their set as the music itself, maintaining an audience full of giggles, chuckles and laughter in contrast to their mournful songs. Throughout the night, the stories add another depth to their stagecraft and I find myself absorbed in it, especially with the more unusual and humorous tracks of the evening. Half way through the first set Josienne comes to explain the thinking behind their song The Waning Crescent from their latest album Overnight. In a dry tone, she describes how very often in folk music the narrator is found talking and expressing their problems to the moon in hope that it will help solve them. So, Josienne decided that she would include the humour she uses on stage to reverse this idea for her song. Written from the perspective of the moon, Josienne writes as if the moon is listening to the world’s problems,taking on a whingy, complaining and sarcastic manner, to image how the moon really must feel when nobody listens to it’s own problems!
Throughout the night, they use their melancholic sound to their advantage. Josienne expresses that she has tried on many occasions to write a happy song, but has failed in doing so (which I can definitely relate to!) and has accepted that it is something she will probably never be able to do. However, she explains that the song Silverline is the closest she’s managed to get to writing something more joyful, letting us know that the song is actually about the fact she can’t write something a little more cheerful. The irony works perfectly
Later on in the set Josienne (who by now you may have grasped, does all the talking) gives us an insight into their latest album Overnight. This is actually the third album by Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker, this time taking on a concept role, with the songs ranging from the evening, through to the morning with each song representing each part of the night. After filling us in on this concept, the next song they glide into is the title track Overnight, which is supposed to represent midnight with the common mentality that things will be better in the morning.
After about an hour, the duo take a short break and join the audience who swarm over to them, now feeling as if we know them both (Josienne especially) inside and out. However, it’s not long before they are back on stage, this time experimenting more with covers, like Fairport Convention. At one point, they even bring out a loop pedal and a drum machine, taking a brief step away from their traditional folk sound. And just to top things off, Josienne shows us that she’s “more than just a mouth” (as she likes to put it) and that actually she’s a very talented saxophonist too! What more could we want!?
There is something about this duo that makes the night very special, is it the story telling, the song writing, the mesmerising guitar playing that is impossible to turn your eyes away from, or Josienne’s beautiful voice, I don’t know. But what I do know is that all these wonderful elements make for an exceptional night of amazing raw music.