REVIEW: Ranagri at Earthbeat, 2/8/15

After a brief wait in the entry queue, I took my seat within The Earthbeat Centre, a modest, quaint venue in the heart of coastal town, Saltburn and one that was teeming with character. As I took my seat, six rows from the front, an array of instruments met my eyes: acoustic guitars, flutes, harps, and harmonicas galore! The event screamed promise before even a note was made, as the chairs quickly became occupied and soon the small theatre was filled.

Musician, Steve Dagleish, who received profuse thanks from all the acts involved, organised the event itself. The night’s purpose was to showcase all the folk-related talent this town has to offer, and get the music of the Saltburn songwriting circle out and into the ears of the public; to say the event merely achieved this goal would be an understatement.

The night began with duo, Bernie and Christine Johnson, with Bernie on acoustic guitar and Christine on vocal and together they made a mesmeric melody. The pair delivered a wonderful performance of Shadow Of My Former Self, written by Winners of the Best Duo category at the 2009 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, Chris While and Julie Matthews; in which they beautifully expressed the sorrow of feeling trapped, looking back on who you used to be.

Next up was Peg Powler- deriving their name from the mythical hag who supposedly haunts the River Tees. The quirky name choice was a perfect representation of the group’s sound as they bought an endearingly eerie atmosphere to the stage; with each song they performed having an unfortunate tale to tell. The most powerful of those played was Mary Ann Cotton, a song that expresses of the antics of an infamous Victorian murderer. Their sound was made up of a cajon, harmonica, violin, acoustic guitar and stunning vocals from Sara Dennis; the delicate, quivering tone in her voice added a haunting element to the words sung.

Then came the night’s organiser, Steve Dagleish, who performed alongside Sara and various members of the night’s headliners, Ranagri. Steve took to performing tracks off of his own album, Only Losers Write On Bridges, as well as pieces written by Sara. The set represented how beautifully sensitive and meaningful music can be, the prime examples being Dennis’ song dedicated to celebrating the work of Emily Dickinson; a melodic tribute to an under-appreciated poet. Dagleish’s subdued nostalgic piece, All You Could, represented how music should be listened to. The audience observed in communal silence as Steve created intricate melodies coupled with an emotive, raw voice to match the meaning of the lyrics. The set came to a close with the title track of Dagleish’s album, and without having to even prompt the crowd, elicited a whole-hearted sing along from everyone. It was a unique feeling of unity that I hadn’t ever experienced within a music venue before.

Finally, our London-based headliner Ranagri took ownership of the stage. Fresh from Cambridge Folk Festival, the group was ready to evoke the room with its expressive sound. Performing tracks off of their latest album, Fort of The Hare, they began their set with an instrumental of the same name; establishing an unmistakably Irish feel. However, the quartet effortlessly switched up their sound song-by-song as they went from the African-influenced The Rhythm Takes You Back, to the politically-motivated words of The Bogeyman. The differing arrangements of each song played effortlessly, layering harp with flute, percussion, and acoustic guitar; all the while maintaining strong harmonies over the top of such powerful instruments. The group was, simply put, hypnotic to watch. The way interacted with each other through each song only amplified the strength of the performance and really showed a sense of unity within the group. Every song had something to say, even the instrumental tracks, with the set always feeling like it maintained a sense of direction with the way it was assembled.

Overall, the night was both fun-filled and a pleasure to be a part of. It really opened my eyes up to the depths a genre that I thought I was already pretty aware of. It was a lesson, in celebrating live music and the art of true craftsmanship when it comes to song writing, and a reminder that music should always, above all else, make you feel something.