On a cold Autumn evening, I ventured through the country lanes of North East Wales to the village of Gwaenysgor. It seems a very innocuous place to attend a gig with one of folk music’s brightest upcoming stars. Yet the small village hall, nestled in a corner just off the main road, was the perfect setting for an evening with Kitty MacFarlane. No sound system. No microphone. No fancy stage lighting. This was just Kitty and her acoustic guitar.
Hosted by the Record Journal Live, this wasn’t your average concert. In many ways, this was the epitome of a gig organised and run by people who are passionate about bringing live music to the local community. There’s something quite special about wandering in and finding your name written on a piece of paper, ready to be ticked off; being handed a cup of tea in a random mug that’s been poured out of a stainless steel teapot; entering into a hall whose tables and chairs have had to be laid out beforehand. No technology. No paid bar staff. Just a warm and friendly atmosphere into which MacFarlane’s gentle vocals and whimsical guitar chords beautifully contribute.
Beginning with ‘Only Human’, MacFarlane proceeded with a delectable mixture of stories and songs. It was a fascinating insight into both her songwriting process as well as her wider world. From it, I sensed a deep affinity with nature. There was clearly a deep connection to her local area too – the Somerset Levels. To be given a context to songs like ‘Man, Friendship’, written in response to the 2014 floods, a picture of which adorns the cover of her debut album, gave them an extra dimension. Told with light humour and gentle passion by MacFarlane meant that they became ever more compelling too. Such light humour peppered most of her anecdotes. Her passion was especially evident when it came to ‘Glass Eels’. Introducing the song, she recounted how she’d spent a day with some wildlife conservationists, studying these fascinating creatures. Such an experience clearly left its mark on her, her continuing interest in eels all too evident and somewhat infectious too. It gave a real insight into the careful crafting that has gone into each of her songs. Every one featured in this set had a tale to tell, and was sung with tender conviction.
One of the most captivating moments in this set came during her rendition of David Francey’s ‘Saints and Sinners’. With the guitar placed to one side, this was Kitty MacFarlane truly unplugged. If it wasn’t enough to enjoy the sole sound of her melodious voice, once the familiarity of the chorus had been claimed by the audience, they joined in with her to create a finish to the song that was truly transcendental and awe-inspiring. It perfectly encapsulated the emotion of the whole evening.
Kitty MacFarlane is as warm and welcoming offstage as she is on. She has received huge commendations for her debut album Namer of Clouds, and rightly so. It is a superb record that deserves your listening ear. In some respects, the twee surroundings of a local community hall is exactly where you expect her to be. To hear her live is a real treat. To be in such an intimate environment when you do is a bonus. The Record Journal has tapped into something here. They’ve kept it sweet and simple. On this occasion, it suited MacFarlane’s performance perfectly. Stripped back and laid bare, this was folk at its finest. A concert that was well worth attending.
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