Concert Review: Maddy Prior on tour with Giles Lewin and Hannah James

Review by Claire Perks with photos by Dave Jones

Maddy Prior, on tour with Giles Lewin and Hannah James, played to a sold-out crowd on a pleasingly warm April Saturday evening, at Lichfield Guildhall. The combination of Maddy Prior’s vitality and experience, together with the innovative flair of singer, accordion player and clog dancer Hannah James, teamed with the adept versatility of singer, violinist, bagpiper and recorder player Giles Lewin resulted in a celebratory evening of folk music. Showcasing new material from their current album, ‘Shortwinger’, as well as playing some old favourites and traditional tunes, this splendid trio delighted the anticipatory audience.

Maddy Prior Hannah James Giles Lewin

With a convivial atmosphere and great harmonies between the three vocalists the concert opened with a rendition of ‘The Undoing World’, a song about refugees travelling to America in the twenties and thirties. This was followed by a drinking song, ‘Three Drunken Maidens’ – well-known from Maddy Prior’s early career. The drinking theme continued with ‘The Eye’, a Brandi Carlile number, delivering haunting accordion playing with a mesmerising Americana rhythm. Midway through the first half Hannah Martin performed a clog dance which left the audience in awe. Maddy Prior was also full of praise for the young dancer who brought exuberance and passion to the evening.

Hannah James

The audience were then treated to several numbers from the new album, ‘Shortwinger’. The main theme of this album is birds and their place in folk mythology and an animated Maddy Prior explained in detail the background to these songs. There were explanations of the stunning aerial stunt of starlings before the song, ‘Murmurations’, and how wrens are known as king of birds, before the song, ‘Jenny Wren’. Lewin then introduced his own moving song, ‘Flying Boy’, before the trio first closed the first half with a captivating and lively rendition of Maddy Prior’s classic, ‘The Fabled Hare’.

Giles Lewin

The second half continued with tracks from the new album, opening with ‘The Austringer’ a song about goshawks and their keepers and ‘The Owl’ based on an Emily Dickinson poem. Returning to more traditional material, the second half included ‘The Lark and Clear Air’, ‘The Waterman’s Dance’, ‘The Serving Girls Holiday’ with the last song ‘Fields of the Cloth of Gold’ conveying the merriment of Tudor times which was brought to life with the skilful harmonies of Prior, Lewin and James. The varied second half also included ‘The Lucky Blackbird’ an instrumental piece written by Hannah James and inspired by the blackbird’s beautiful song. A light-hearted encore, which included a traditional Austrian yodel completed a very satisfying and extensive evening of folk entertainment. The concert had something for everyone with Maddy Prior happily taking centre stage for most of the evening whilst also taking breaks, enabling Giles Lewin and Hannah James to flaunt their musical skills.

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