The Emily Smith Band
at the Black Swan Folk Club,
York, England
(12 August 2004)

York's Black Swan Folk Club hosted Dumfries-shire's Emily Smith Band on Aug. 12, and most of the set comprised new (and extremely high quality) material. The music was, if anything, even better than on Smith's acclaimed debut, A Day Like Today. The venue, a small upstairs room in a 16th-century pub, had that cosy "living room" feel; a feeling reinforced by the proximity between performer and listener. Smith's set was very nicely balanced between those slower tunes that always allow her vocal purity to flourish and some fantastic, vibrant instrumentals that fairly shook the rafters of this 500-year-old building!

I noticed that there'd been some changes to the band's original line-up, with just Smith and Jamie McClennan remaining. Malinky's guitarist/bouzouki player Steve Byrne had replaced Sean O'Donnell, and Alan Doherty (of Irish band Grada) had stepped into Ross Ainslie's shoes to play flutes and whistles. The band was on great form and they seemed very relaxed together despite the "newness" of their working relationship.

Standout vocal tracks were Smith's original (and very contemporary-themed) "A Day Like Today" and the superlative "Fair Helen of Kirkconnel," a tragic Dumfries-shire tale. There was also an exquisite new song, simply called "Gran's Song," which I found very moving and beautifully sung. Smith played keyboards and accordion throughout -- her keyboard playing always so effective on the gentler numbers. You always knew you were in for a great instrumental set whenever she switched to accordion, though -- her playing is very impressive and very assured.

There was immense passion and skill in Jamie McClennan's fiddle playing; he's a fun, energetic musician (from New Zealand), who simply can't stop dancing whenever he plays! The instrumental sets were incredibly full on, especially a superb set of Galician/Breton tunes, some superb reels and strathspeys, and one of McClennan's originals, "Cicada" -- he's a very fine tunesmith indeed. Doherty and Byrne really came into their own, too, on these instrumentals -- Doherty's playing fluid and incredibly lyrical, perfect alongside McClennan's lilting playing and Byrne's unfailing rhythm-keeping. The set list included many other great numbers, including "Martinmas," "Brothers Now," "Lowlands," "Lochmaben Harper" and "The Nutting Song."

I hope it's "onward and upward" for Smith following the recent band changes. Her forthcoming album looks set to contain some great new songs, if this excellent set in York is anything to go by!

- Rambles
written by Debbie Koritsas
published 9 October 2004