Review: Deep South on a cold night

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Alice Gerrard and

Beverly Smith

Flitcham Community Centre

Thursday October 10

Alice Gerrard (North Carolina) and Beverly Smith (Georgia) – flying in from Andalucia into a north wind for the first date of their UK tour – may have been a long way from home on this wild Norfolk night, and expressing themselves in need of their favoured British hot water bottles, but they got a warm welcome from West Norfolk’s folk community.

When genial host Roger Young joked they might find the (actually, excellent) floorspots hard to follow, you wondered if British irony translated and if the remark might worry them. Until fiddle and mandolin began to weave and then wow! – those voices!

Their ‘high lonesome sound’ chimes perfectly with the covers and Gerrard’s open-hearted songs, which tell real-life stories of hardship and heartbreak in an unsentimental way. Smith adds a hint of steel to the mix. It’s an attractive contrast.

The ‘old time’ music they make together out of duet harmonies, that down-home blend of banjo, fiddle, mandolin and guitar – all played with a skill made to look fun – comes from a place strange and familiar at once – the American South.

Smith saluted Elizabeth Cotten, the North Carolina guitarist who developed her own original style, which become known as “Cotten picking”.

The heartache is never far away, whether in their tributes to that first family of country music, the Carters, or in Gerrard’s own compositions. But it’s a delicious, warm Southern heartache. Just right for a cold night in West Norfolk.

Gareth Calway