The village of Pentyrch, which lies north of Cardiff, has earned a reputation as the music and folk-roots hot-spot – thanks to husband and wife Hywel Wigley and harp virtuoso Catrin Finch, who bought the ancient Capel Horeb and converted it as the concert base for their Acapela Studio. The month of May is looking particularly good, with Folk Awards winners Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker, Bristol-based band Spiro, Swansea-Barnsley songwriters and alt-country duo Balsamo Deighton and the exquisite Alaw on stage.
Josienne and Ben appear on Saturday, May 7 at 8pm, and the story of an unknown couple who rose to win the 2015 BBC Folk Awards Best Duo in two short years is quite an achievement at any stage of an artists’ career. But just a short time before this accolade, they were virtually unknown on the folk scene and had been performing to one woman and a disinterested dog at London acoustic nights since 2009. Following the release of their first two albums, One Light Is Gone and The Seas Are Deep, interest began to grow in discerning pockets of the blogging community – but it was musician and producer Jim Moray, brother of folk singer and fiddle player Jackie Oates, who persuaded them of a far bigger audience who would appreciate their classically-instilled traditional songs and self-penned love-lorn ballads. Although Josienne was initially sceptical that the folk and roots scene would welcome outsiders, the reviews, end-of-year polls and nominations that greeted their 2013 album Fire And Fortune would prove her gratifyingly wrong.
On a weekend just overflowing with acoustic music, Spiro travel to Acapela Studio to Sunday May 7 at 7.30pm. The musicians are Jane Harbour, who plays violin and viola, mandolinist Alex Vann, accordionist Jason Sparkes and guitarist and cellist Jon Hunt, and this contemporary acoustic quartet first came together at Bristolʼs folk sessions scene in 1993, trading under the name of The Famous Five. Now, a full 16 years later, they have released their third album and their first for rock star Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records, Lightbox, and xtraordinarily stirring album. Recorded over four days at Real World Studios in the Wiltshire village of Box and largely produced by Simon Emmerson, the chief architect behind the Afro Celt Sound System and The Imagined Village projects, it showcases a highly-imaginative and highly-disciplined group with a sound that is unified but never uniform. All four members and four instruments pull in the same direction, creating music that is intricate yet full of momentum. These are hurrying, scurrying soundscapes that sweep majestically with cinematic presence, echoing traces of the work of Steve Reich, Michael Nyman and the Penguin Café Orchestra – however, this is Spiro’s music. Despite a slew of work for theatre, film and television, Spiro remain something of an enigma, a well-kept secret that is only now starting to spread – even in their home city.
South Wales-Yorkshire duo Balsamo Deighton – Steve Balsamo and Rosalie Deighton – are on stage on Saturday May 21 at 8pm. Swansea-born singer-songwriter Steve learnt the ropes in local rock bands, and he shot to prominence in 1997 after Andrew Lloyd Webber picked him from 2,000 hopefuls to play Jesus to critical acclaim in the West End revival of Jesus Christ Superstar. Steve formed The Storys In 2004, who toured with Elton John, Joe Cocker, Katie Melua and the keyboard legend Jon Lord. Beautiful, ethereal-voiced folk/country singer Rosalie, born in The Netherlands and part of the roots-flavoured Deighton Family, joined The Storys – and Steve and Rosalie decided go it alone. Steve has been writing songs with Rosalie for a duet project originally titled Balsamo Deighton, and their current debut album, Unfolding, has gone straight into the Top 10 in the Indie charts.
Alaw are a vital must-see on Sunday, May 29 (8pm), with brilliant accordionist Jamie Smith, master fiddler Oliver Wilson-Dickson and an inspiring jazz guitarist Dylan Fowler dishing up an appetising and exciting traditional Welsh music stew to Acapela audiences. Alaw is ‘melody’ in the Welsh language, and it is a love of melody that is at the heart of this trio. Drawing on a great wealth of musical experiences, they take their crowd on a musical journey – a tune brought back from a tour in Bulgaria or collaboration in India – but at the heart of their set is a passion for the old tunes of Wales. From the elegant to the virtuoso, Alaw play with an empathy that comes from many years of working together. Dylan and Oliver have performed in Szapora and The Ian McMillan Orchestra – “a bunch of top-drawer world musicians”, according to the Nottingham Evening Post’s John Medd. Oliver and Jamie are celebrated as the frontline of Jamie Smith’s Mabon, who presenter and reviewer Mike Harding describes as: “A top band led by one hell of an accordion player.”
A date for your diaries: well-known singer-songwriter Judi Tzuke takes the stage on Friday, November 4, 2016 and The Red Dirt Skinners, husband and wife Rob and Sarah Skinner, appear with their spot-on harmonies on Thursday November 24 (8pm).