Since 2000’s Blue Horse Vancouver’s The Be Good Tanyas have held a special place in UK folk/ roots lovers’ hearts. Their sparse three album output, enhanced by this year’s A Collection with two new tracks, stands apart for their soulful fragile beauty. Even if they did no more, they’d be guaranteed greatness.
For their first UK tour since 2008’s hiatus, The Be Good Tanyas are without founding member Sam Parton, unable to travel following a car accident in the Fall. For the UK tour Frazey Ford and Trish Klein are joined on vocals by fellow Vancouver musician – and neighbour – Caroline Ballhorn. John Raham is on drums, Mark Beaty on upright bass.
First up though is BBC Folk award winner Emily Portman, who gives a delicate harp/ banjo/ fiddle and saw (yes, Spear and Jackson) driven rendering of her modern take on folk ballads – sweetly singing more death and mayhem than the average thrash metal band. The fragile soundscape created by material from her new album Hatchlings sets a hushed and otherworldly tone. This quietude is perfect for The Be Good Tanyas. Their sound is hard to describe – quiet, as mellow as a great malt whisky, swaying gently but insistently, words murmured into your ear as if it matters only to you and you are all that matters.
Despite Ford’s split sparkly dress they have an almost anti stage presence. In between songs chat is sporadic and done reluctantly, but then who cares when the music speaks like this? ‘In My Time of Dying’, ‘In Spite of all the Damage’ and ‘Ootischenia’ set the tone, Klein moving between electric and acoustic guitar and banjo. She drives the music and gives the sound its quiet centred soul. Their sound is full of spacem allowing instruments and voices to breathe, even in the slightly muffled acoustic of the Barbican.
Deceptively simple guitar and banjo from Ford and Klein, and a gentle, but firm and commanding rhythm section from the boys. The sound is alluring, smoky, dirty and sexy. It drags you in and transports you to a country of bigger skies, cosmic and everyday concerns. It is roots folk music on a universal register.
There are almost too many great moments to clock – versions of Bob Dylan’s ‘One More Cup of Coffee’ , Neil Young’s ‘Birds’ and ‘For the Turnstiles’ as well as a desolate version of their own ‘Junkie Song’. Emily Portman joins them for a spine tingling ‘Here Comes the Sun’ – as if we hardly dared believe it could ever happen. ‘Gospel Song’ from the new album soon appears, and they’re gone, leaving us and the entire room feeling too mellow for words and longing for more.