After a clunky start the Hanging Tree Band settled down to provide a generous concert in ‘three halves’ at the Riverside Club, Staines. For those with a keen ear for bariolage and a predilection for folk and rebel songs, this concert was a treat. For those who just enjoy a toe-tapping evening and a jubilant jig, this was a joy.
The HTB is a duo. Gangling, lanky ‘front man’ Francis MacNamara simply amazes with the violin and provides most of the voice. He also pulls out some whistles for a couple of songs. Daffydd Tavinor seated throughout, plays guitar and sings too. But above all, he provides the percussive element, with hits, punches and chops on guitar – performed like a flamenco player- and he also thrums a djambe drum or taps a tambo from time-to-time.
The two singers are balanced, and although not surprisingly good, however, are ready and effective in their delivery. (Although, to be fair, the sound quality of their vocals may have had more to do with the poor microphones they were using on the night rather than limitations with their vocal ability.) For comparisons think ‘The Pogues’ mixed with the ‘Foggy Mountain Boys’. Abundant lyrical melodies and purposeful harmonies provided a fresh and lively show.
Standard fayre included crowd pleasers like “Whiskey in the Jar” and “The Irish Rover”, but the band often amazed the happy crowd with sensitive and riveting versions of songs like “Paint It, Black” (The Rolling Stones) and “Eleanor Rigby” (The Beatles). They even performed their own hummable version of “Jolene” (Dolly Parton) – sung by Daffydd.
Throughout the concert, Francis provided convincing and blazing violin. From pulsating vibrato to wistful harmonics, his ‘rate of attack’ can be alarmingly fast (jigs) and yet at other times eloquently drawn out (ballads), with plenty of show-off shuffles along the way. Obviously, he could perform fiddle attacks on songs like “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” (Charlie Daniels Band) but was also highly entertaining in songs like “Ring of Fire” (Johnny Cash) where the violin sensually entwines and weaves around the guitar, illuminating the melody. Striking fluctuations in tempo were often achieved and HTB were equally at home in the jazz/light pop world as they were in folk/country territory. For example, “Ain’t No Sunshine” (Bill Withers) allowed the duo to show off their sensitive side and create some catchy and complex textures.
A thoroughly enjoyable performance, and I hope these boys find time to ‘Hang Out’ in Staines again soon!