review: Alasdair Roberts, The Lexington, London 12th February 2012

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words: Jonathan Greer photos: Sarah Dorman

Alasdair Roberts has been performing as a solo artist for over ten years now, and his distinctively Scottish flavoured blend of ancient and modern songs was well showcased at this intimate Sunday night show, during which he carried out his stated promise to perform “songs from 15 years ago as well as songs from last month. It will also feature songs from about 200 years ago.”
Concentrating on his acoustic guitar for most of the set, he began as far back as he could, with an unreleased version of what he said was “one of many” Scottish songs about incest, 'Brother Seed', which featured haunting lines like
“And she a youngling in her bud/ The green wood waxes early
She's lain with one too near in blood/ Where the deer go running yearly”
He already has us hooked and he continues with another traditional tale about the Highland clearances of the early 19th century 'The Year of Burning.'
The first of his newer material was 'Gave the Green Blessing' which of course fitted seamlessly with the ancient tales he had told at the start of the set. Another new tune 'The Merry Wake' weaves more modern influences in, with some jazzy inflections curiously reminiscent of the folk music made in California in the 1960s, and the very end of it actually reminds me of Arthur Lee and Love.
Roberts changes tack for 'Lord Ronald', bringing out an elderly Casio keyboard which has a story attached to it and a connection with an audience member as well.
The song “from fifteen years ago” turns out to be 'Frozen Blight' which was recorded by his first band, Appendix Out, and it's great to hear it again, and also to realise that it does actually connect with Roberts's sound now as well.
A couple more new tunes follow – 'Fusion of Horizons' and 'The End of Breeding' – at least they are
new to me, and then he plays a very faithful version of 'Sonny Brogan's Mazurka' on his guitar.
'The Sacred Nine and the Primal Horde' closes the show and once again shows how well his songs work within a traditional folk setting. He had treated us to an hour and half of this music, so it's a pleasant surprise that he returns for an encore, and he chooses one of his most well known songs 'Come, My Darling Polly'.
Although the songs are lengthy and Roberts tried out some unheard material, his skill as a performer and storyteller made the evening fly by. It had been quite a few years since I had been to see Alasdair Roberts live; I will be sure not to leave it as long again.

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