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Review: Lau-Land, Hall Two, Sage Gateshead

An impressive and enjoyable concert opens the Lau-Land festival at Sage Gateshead

Lau-Land Festival - curated by folk luminaries, Lau, will take over Sage Gateshead at the end of May

By Martin Ellis

This was the opening concert of a long weekend festival of folk music centred on multi-award-winning Scottish-English trio Lau.

A couple of years ago the group staged a music festival in London with the title Welcome To Lau-Land.

This weekend, Lau are staging the Lau-Land festival at the Sage, and have invited a range of folk and roots musicians to perform and run workshops.

The concert was opened by Aoife O’Donovan, an American singer-songwriter whom many will have seen when she was a member of bluegrass band Crooked Still. The band were regulars at the Jumpin’ Hot Club, performing at The Cluny.

This set had a bluesy-jazz sound and was much more laidback than Crooked Still. With a lovely, delicate voice, Aoife was a polished launch to Lau-Land.

Lau are a close-knit trio of musicians who all have traditional folk music running through their veins. Their music could be described as avant-garde, if one wanted to be arty. It would be progressive to rock fans and modern to jazz fans but folkies would probably use a simple term, like “different”.

Fiddle player Aidan O’Rourke’s input is the most traditional. Throughout the evening he mainly took the lead. Innovative and interesting, he lived up to his reputation as one of the world’s finest fiddlers.

Kris Drever, seated centre stage playing guitar, was a one-man rhythm section. During the evening he alternated between semi-acoustic and acoustic guitars and also provided delicate vocals on the occasional non-instrumental piece.

Accordion, keyboard and electronic effects were supplied by Martin Green. On this evidence, his contribution to the Lau sound could be described as esoteric. It was also accessible and I loved it.

Lau’s music is complex, the band’s presentation down to earth. When introducing Save The Bees, Martin Green shared with the audience an anecdote relating to his young daughter being stung by a bee. They then performed a lively abstract and engaging piece. I have seen Lau a number of times over they years. They are constantly moving on and changing their approach, with electronica now much more a part of the Lau sound.

I was impressed but, perhaps most importantly, I enjoyed the performance. It was a great start to a packed and varied festival programme.

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