Roots Unearthed, Lefel 3 lounge, St David’s Hall, Cardiff: October 27, 2015
If ever you become embroiled in a heated discussion when the tired and erroneous adage about boring folk music rears its ugly head, just take my advice: frog-march the erring individual down to the nearest Faustus concert, stick him in the front row and gleefully watch as Benji Kirkpatrick, Paul Sartin and Saul Rose melt his mind. He may even buy you a drink in appreciation for setting him straight as well.
These guys are awesome; eye-popping musicianship, growling, chattering diatonic accordion, spot-on locked-in harmonies to die for, soaring fiddle, syncopated bouzouki and acoustic guitar building up a rock-solid, powerful sound – these are the unmistakeable hallmarks of a thrilling Faustus concert. The audience went completely mad in the Lefel 3 Lounge when the musicians reached their finale, shouting loudly for more, stamping and cheering, until the smiling three returned to the stage to perform one last song.
When you consider the excellent pedigrees and the hectic lives involved in being a Faustus musician, it’s a minor miracle that this band ever got off the ground. Paul and Benji are both members of the amazing folk juggernaut Bellowhead, while Saul was a long-time member of Waterson:Carthy, winning two BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, forming a duo with Eliza Carthy, being nominated for the Mercury Music Prize for the double album Red Rice, joining Whapweasel, Ruth Notman’s band and the duo with hammered dulcimer player Maclaine Colston, playing on numerous albums including Jackie Oates’ Hyperboreans, Norma Waterson and Eliza Carthy’s The Gift and the Morris – A Life With Bells On film soundtrack, being nominated for the Musician of The Year in the BBC Folk Awards and took the part of The Songman in the West End smash-hit ‘War Horse’. Paul is a member of the duo Belshazzar’s Feast, director of the Andover Museum Loft Singers, consultant for the charity Live Music Now and is a composer of note with recent works including ‘The Hartlepool Monkey’ for Streetwise Opera, ‘Anthony and Cleopatra’ for the Central School of Speech and Drama, and ‘Changing Landscapes’ for Broadstairs Folk Week. Benji featured with the Seth Lakeman Band and has also played with many other artists, including Oysterband and Maddy Prior, and released three solo albums.
Despite all three punishing schedules, Paul, Saul and Benji can still find time to deliver the absolutely delicious moments which are the unerring pointers of a scrumptious Faustus gig. They choose their repertoire with the utmost care, completely reshaping well-known folk songs with inspiring and dazzling powerhouse arrangements – there might be only three of them and their instruments are entirely acoustic, but Faustus show the might and the commitment of much bigger rock bands.
Kicking off with the prowling, doomy ‘The Thresherman’ and sailing effortlessly into ‘Broken-down Gentlemen’, Faustus paid tribute that well-known and well-loved singer and prolific songwriter, Bill Caddick, who wrote ‘Oh To Be King’. It is a measure of Bill’s worth as an important composer that the band executed a brilliant score, a shower of swirling notes reaching for a climax which highlighted the sheer beauty of his work – definitelya work to savour.
All three were masters of their instruments – Saul was at one with his diatonic accordion, his fingers flying over the keys; Paul let his fiddle dance and weave, his clear and bright oboe reaching the heavens; and Benji was the anchorman, his guitar and bouzouki highlighting the Faustus wall of sound. The Roots Unearthed crowd loved the familiar songs and the not-so-familiar variants – ‘Blow The Windy Morning’, ‘Banks Of The Nile’, the swaggering, hormone-filled ‘Og’s Eye Man’, ‘The Green Willow Tree’ and the encore song that Paul learned from his direct-line ancestor, Mrs Edith Sartin, ‘Brisk Lad’. The Roots Unearthed programme welcomes excellent artists who amaze and give pleasure to audiences all the year round, and long may it continue.