Tuesday 8 October 2013

Leyla McCalla & Rhiannon Giddens - Chocolate Bonbons

Leyla McCalla - Cello
Two of Carolina's sweetest chocolate drops started their tour of the UK and France at Cecil Sharp House last Wednesday (03/10/2013). An array of prone musical instruments lay basking in the light of Leyla McCalla and Rhiannon Giddens as they took to the stage. By the end of the performance we too bathed in their talent, beauty and charm, it is the kind that washes over you, letting the spirit soar for those brief hours of listening.

It was my first visit to Cecil Sharp House since my tenure as Twickfolk's artist-in-residence earlier this year. Every week I was welcomed into the bosom of Twickenham's folk scene and got to know many of the regulars there. Due to their loyalty and dedication the faces rarely changed, so foolishly I thought I would recognise a few on this night. Not only was every face in the warm wood-panelled hall a new one but no singular demographic materialised with which to pigeon-hole them with my artistic eye.

Neil Coffey - Fan
Luckily there was a couple of faces that I recognised, a gig wouldn't be worth going to unless the legendary Dr and Mrs Fizzy were in attendance. Mike Watts was fizzing with his camera, taking pictures (only for the first 3 songs) for the EFDSS or English folk dance and song society. I was lucky enough to sketch the whole way through, but it wasn't an easy brief. No sooner had Leyla McCalla picked up her cello than she had replaced it with banjo. Rhiannon Giddens was equally culpable, swapping violin for banjo, then triangle, and as if to tease us she blew her Kazoo at one point.

It was a whirl of lyrical songs and beautiful craftsmanship, carefully carved from their own traditions and with a sweep of their musical chisels in our direction too. The two major pillars of the evening that held the impressive Cecil Sharp ceiling so high were Giddens' US Civil War inspirations and McCalla's tasty Haitian brews.

Rhiannon Giddens - violin
Both the stars of Rhiannon Giddens and Leyla McCalla's are in the ascendancy but it was the later that shone particularly bright. Her most recent release 'Vari-Colored Songs'  has received some Very-Favorable reviews already. Her performance on 'Rose-Marie' was a standout and the flavour of her Haitian songs created extra layers to an evening that was already eclectic. As if to exaggerated the flight of McCalla's words on 'Meci Bon Dieu' the flock of tattooed birds seemed to spring from her slender frame into the excited hall. She often created the thermals for Giddens to soar too with her own voice of purity and clarity.

As always I roped in the nearest expert to hide my woeful knowledge and met a charming fan in the form of Neil Coffey. His favourite of the night was Rhiannon Giddens' 'Cuckoo' song and there was an appreciation of the change in material and pace from their work in the foursome Carolina Chocolate Drops. Neil even admitted that he saw them twice during a recent visit to the Cambridge Folk Festival. Its easy to see why, with such depth and pure musical talent you would have to have a second nibble on these chocolate bonbons.

Tour dates still to come include -
9th October - The Greystones, Sheffield
10th October - The Met, Bury
11th October - The Atkinson, Southport
12th October - Oran Mor, Glasgow
and then onto France.



  1. What a great write up and memory of the evening - never a dull moment with Rhiannon and Leyla on stage that's for sure. I'd pick out the same highlights for me too, Lovely Haitian songs, Rhiannon's amazing civil war story - and the cheery rasp of her kazoo played with such great verve and aplomb!

    1. Would Rhiannon rate in your top 3 Kazoo players of all time?

    2. Without a doubt! The only other time I've seen the kazoo feature so prominently is from Leeds band hope and social who hand a bagful out to the audience so they can join in the chorus!