“I’m starting as I mean to go on - with death and destruction,” quipped Jim Moray following the opening song in his excellent gig at Twickenham Folk Club last Sunday night. It’s a standard - but always-appreciated - folk joke: diffusing the often dire subject matter of traditional song by wryly drawing attention to it. For folk fans, it’s the dire subject matter that we love, of course. The song in question this time was “Hind Etin,” or Child 43, which Moray had seamlessly combined with bits and pieces of other ballads, and which features among its protagonists a “woodland elf rapist.” (Who said folk music was boring, again?)
Moray made TwickFolk the first stop on his tour in support of his beautiful new album Skulk (his best record so far, I’d say), noting that “They say you play Twickenham twice in a career … Once on the way up and then… Well, let’s just say that I’m pleased to be playing here for a third time.” Once variously patronised, praised and pilloried as the “bad boy” of the British folk scene - a guy whose first album, Sweet England (2003) brought classical, electronic and rock influences to bear on trad. material and whose third, Low Culture (2008) featured a collaboration with rapper Bubbz - Moray has proved himself to be one of the most vital and valuable young artists we have: consistently creative in his work on traditional songs, a keen collaborator (in the past year he’s been involved with the Cecil Sharp Project, contributed to the Nic Jones concert at the Royal Festival Hall and played Orpheus to Anais Mitchell’s Eurydice at the UK Hadestown shows) and a musical multi-tasker who’s equally skilled on guitar, drums, piano, banjo, keyboards, concertina, melodeon - and laptop.
He’s still not adverse to the odd marvellously confounding gesture - slipping a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Big Love” in between the traditional songs on Skulk, for example. But he seems to go deeper and deeper with every new release. Sunday’s solo gig found his music at its most stripped-down - and, perhaps, at its most powerful. Wry and warm between songs, and in supple voice, Moray was equal parts folk troubadour and late-night bar-room crooner as he alternated between acoustic guitar and (a wonderfully battered) piano in a set that drew on songs from across his five studio albums, alongside some new additions.
Highlights included an ineffably chilling “Long Lankin,” a marvellous 'singalongy' “Peg And Awl,” and a beautiful “Sweet England.” The big ballads (“Hind Etin,” Lord Douglas”) were especially powerful, but the most emotive moments, for me, were the songs performed on piano, with an intense “If It’s True,” (from Hadestown), a dramatic “Lord Bateman,” a soulful “Poverty Knock,” and a gorgeous “Gilderoy” outstanding. Moray even offered a couple of songs with happy endings - "of sorts" - notably the spry "The Golden Glove," which concludes with its enterprising "nobleman's daughter" heroine pledging - in memorable folk euphemism - to be "the mistress of your dairy" and to "milk all your cows." Catch him where you can: concert dates and details here.
Moray’s gig was preceded by an engaging support set by Maz O’Connor, a young Cumbrian singer who accompanied herself on guitar and shruti and performed North East folk-songs, a Dylan cover, and a lovely original song, tentatively titled “Rose Garden.” The romantic content of the latter piece led O’Connor to mention that her parents first met in Twickenham. The chorus of “Aahs” that followed this announcement prompted an additional piece of information that brought the house down. “Yeah, well. They’ve divorced since.” Happy endings. Of sorts.
Three Black Feathers
The Captain’s Apprentice
If It’s True
Peg and Awl
The Golden Glove
The Flying Cloud
Billy Don’t You Weep For Me
The Wishfulness Waltz