Venue: Shoreham Ropetackle, Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex
Date: 5 December 2017
Much has been written about the extraordinary talent that is Sam Kelly, but this was the first time I’d managed to catch him live, along with his band The Lost Boys, and it was definitely a tingle down the spine experience.
With the crowd nicely warmed by a short set from trio The Jellyman’s Daughter (exquisite harmonies from Scots duo Emily Kelly and Graham Coe, backed by the extraordinary lead banjo of Jamie Francis), it was a straight 90 minutes of rollicking shanties, blistering musicianship and cheerful on-stage banter as Sam and his cohorts worked their way through their debut album Pretty Peggy.
At times conjuring up the complexity and groove of Bellowhead, but mostly creating a powerful musical blend all their own, it was a live performance that allowed every musician to shine, but delivered something even more wonderful together than the admittedly prodigious components promised.
Outstanding of course was the warm and stunning voice of the main man, as much at home on roistering whaling shanty Greenland Whale, Appalachian call and response Angeline the Baker, or a touching Chasing Shadows on the tricky subject of depression. And the good humoured between song chat was hugely endearing.
Band members switched instruments with aplomb, and the arrangements had heads a spinning with the flying fingers and imaginative layers built up. Everybody sung and the harmonies soared, yet when drummer Evan Carson kicked in they rocked like a good ‘un.
Whether it was the dextrous pipes, flutes and whistles of Toby Shaer, the willowy fiddle of Ciaran Algar, or the glorious melodeon of Archie Churchill-Moss, there was lots to admire. Virtuoso banjo? Step forward Jamie Francis. Spine-tingling cello with echo and percussive drive? Graham Coe, of course.
And their doomy, Eastern-tinged take on Dylan’s Crash on the Levee, sounded for all the world like it belonged on Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti. Outstanding.
Massively respectful of the traditions and depths of English folk, but totally unafraid to drive it into the modern world and the future. A collective gem.