Tue, 02/01/2022 - 11:27
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It needs to be stated that things were stacked against it from the start. The name, Lewis Barfoot, was not widely known here. The COVID infection rate has been soaring in this part of Sussex and the age groups that normally make up the audience for such gigs in Lewes were the ones most likely to take notice of this. A fair proportion of the usual Con Club audiences come over from the much larger Brighton, only eight miles away, and on top this the following night of the tour was in Brighton and at a ‘free admission with collection’ venue. Near the beginning of the night in Lewes, Lewis sang the folk song starting out “The fox walked out on a cold, cold night…” and the fox wasn’t the only one to do so! So yes, this gig was very poorly attended. 

None of these things, though, reflect the quality of every aspect of this performance, which was of a high standard, well-rehearsed and carefully programmed, with the Barfoot voice the most impressive aspect. All her compositions are well grounded, mostly in her own experience of leaving England and moving to the Ireland of her mother and many ancestors - with White Dress telling a moving story of her mother’s funeral, and another evoking the spirit of a grandmother Lewis never met and the now-abandoned farm she worked in east Cork that provides the album’s title. Other themes are referenced, including feminism and the traditional and current ways of life in Ireland.

Lewis used a loop station for a few tracks, and this worked well for one of her own songs and displayed a different facet of the much recorded Twa Corbies, though the technology did seem to overpower the music in the soundscape-like final piece. The two other musicians made a major contribution to the whole – clarinettist Jarlath Mulholland originates from a small community beneath the Mountains of Mourne and fiddler Essa Flett hails from the north coast of Fife. As a trio, they present quite a range of musical approaches. Essa plays a convincing reel, but on a Connemara lament she displays conservatoire training and the accompaniment for it has a chamber music feel to it. Elsewhere Lewis sets a fine swinging rhythm on the guitar to one of her songs, and the instrumental breaks have fiddle and clarinet trading jazz licks. It came as a surprise that Lewis’s interesting new single, putting a set of words to Ruairi Dall O'Cathain’s fine Tabhair Dom Do Lamh was not included, but then the purpose of the tour is to promote the album.

Vic Smith