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LIVE: The Furrow Collective – Howard Assembly Room, Leeds, 12/12/2021

With such a huge public appetite for its fare, music has long been an integral feature of Christmas time. From what now seems to be as early as mid-November, Christmas songs are placed on heavy rotation on daytime radio; routinely piped through to us in the nation’s shopping malls; and populate an ever-increasing number of seasonal streaming service playlists.

The Howard Assembly Room is no different in that it also makes music a central part of its winter programme of events. The computer-animated Christmas musical fantasy film Polar Express and a very special celebration in music of the Winter Solstice are still yet to come in this year’s seasonal schedule, but given the HAR’s continuing emphasis upon diversity, inspiration and innovation please don’t be strolling up New Briggate in Leeds this week expecting to hear the strains of Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ or Brenda Lee’s ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’ blasting out from the doors of this fine Victorian building.

Tonight instead, with only 13 more windows left to open on the 2021 advent calendar, it is over to The Furrow Collective to reflect the festive period with what is described as “eerie story-songs and seasonal carols that revel in the strange and wonderful traditions of these isles.” And courtesy of what is a quite delightful performance, the quartet of Lucy Farrell (viola, guitar, voice), Rachel Newton (harp, voice), Emily Portman (banjo, concertina, voice) and Alasdair Roberts (guitars, voice) duly oblige on this prior promise

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Stood in front of an impressive backdrop of Christmas trees, each one dripping in translucent silver decorations, the four musicians are clearly entering into the spirit of the occasion. They open with ‘Many’s The Night’s Rest’, taken from their second album, 2016’s Wild Hog, and with it immediately illustrate the effortless dexterity of their instrumental interaction and exquisite vocal harmonies.

The remainder of the first part of tonight’s show – neatly bisected by a short intermission – is given over to an impressive series of murder ballads (the grim tale of ‘Willie’s Fatal Visit’ , a version of which is taken from their fellow British folk luminary Martin Carthy); carols (‘Cherry-Tree Carol’, an exquisite interpretation taken from John Partridge of Gloucestershire); and spirituals (a stunning a cappella reading of the American folk legend Peggy Seeger’s  ‘Oh, Watch The Stars’).

After the break, The Furrow Collective reconvene with a note-perfect reading of the Kentucky singer Jean Ritchie’s ‘Dear Companion’ before going back to 2015 and their then EP Blow Out The Moon for the song ‘Lament To The Moon’. The quartet then firmly embrace the season of good will with three carols, the first of which is ‘The Lambskin Carol’.  Written by Maddy Taylor more than 30 years ago, this song emerged from the recent time The Furrow Collective spent at Halsway Manor in Somerset preparing material for this tour. It is also likley to appear on their forthcoming new album. They may well have been apart for some two years but on this evidence alone it seems that The Furrow Collective have never been away.

The Furrow Collective return for a richly deserved encore combining ‘Oh To Be in My Bed and Happit’ – an old ballad that Alasdair Roberts learnt years ago from the late Scots singer Anne Neilson – with a gentle lullaby written by Lucy Farrell. In this one single breath The Furrow Collective exhale an unerring ability to easily transport the great folk tradition to the present day. And given the time of year they also uphold the spirit of Christmas and a real semblance of normality in what are still quite clearly very troubled times.

Photos: Simon Godley

More photos from this show can be found HERE

Winter tour dates:

13/12/2021
The Stoller Hall, Manchester                                  more info and tickets

14/12/2021
Liverpool Philharmonic, Liverpool                        more info and tickets

15/12/2021
Pontio Arts & Innovation Centre, Bangor             more info and tickets

16/12/2021
​Pound Arts Centre, Corsham                                   more info and tickets

17/12/2021
​Oxford OCM at Holywell Music Room, Oxford   more info and tickets

18/12/2021
​The Hive, Shrewsbury                                              more info and tickets

19/12/2021
​The Wanstead Tap, London                                    more info and tickets

20/12/2021
​Café Oto, London                                                      more info and tickets

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.