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  • Writer's pictureEllie Winter

Faustus: Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester

Rating: ★★★★★

Folk is the music of the people. It resonates with tales of hardship, love, loss and legend, passed down through generations. Last night, Celtic tunes of centuries past lived on in the theatre of RNCM in Manchester, as ‘bloke-folk’ trio Faustus took to the stage.

Following on from the great folk revival of the 1950s and 60s, the genre has exploded onto the modern music scene. Centuries old melodies and lyrics scribbled down at the hearth, cradle, pub and field generations ago are being rediscovered and revamped. The sound of Celtic life is alive and well, particularly in the hands of Faustus.

As a group, Benji Kirkpatrick, Saul Rose and Paul Sartin boast an extraordinary range of musical abilities. Collectively they play more than eight instruments, possess beautifully matched vocals, and are seasoned folk performers. Kirkpatrick and Sartin were both members of well-loved folk fusion band Bellowhead, and Saul spent many years with the award winning group Waterson:Carthy.

The depth of understanding of this trio and of their craft is quite remarkable. An exemplary musical versatility, and a clear love of the world of folk is wonderfully contagious. Pure vocal harmonies glow through the beautifully rustic tone of their instruments. Shut your eyes and it could be a six piece ceilidh band. Their distinctive sound passes through you with the warmth of centuries of memories.

Faustus: Og’s Eye Man (Live)

Rose’s melodeon (accordion) breathes in his arms. Harmonic colors melt into each other on every inhale and exhale. Intertwining melodies tell stories with as much delicacy and depth as a human voice. Next to him, Sartin’s ability to both lead and blend seamlessly with his band members as a violinist and vocalist (often simultaneously) is an incredible spectacle. As a fiddle player, his movements are as soft as butter, yet the sound is gloriously powerful and rich. Underpinning everything is the masterful guitar, or at times bouzouki, playing of Kirkpatrick. The result is really quite exceptional.

Conversation between tracks dissolved the barrier between audience and stage in an instant. The band helped introduce those less familiar with the genre by explaining something of their processes behind reviving a folk song. Their stories of dusting each melody off and polishing it back to life were as endearing as they were intriguing. Foot stomping track Deadly Sands, was discovered by Rose in a desk drawer during the band’s year as Artists In Residence at Halsway Manor (National Centre for Folk Arts) in 2016. Additionally, the band’s sensational rendition of I am a Brisk Lad was made possible by an ancestor of Sartin, who recorded the song many generations previously in 1906.

Faustus: Slaves (released February 2017)

Faustus’ brilliance comes in part through this remarkable ability to amalgamate vast tangles of notation to create playable, unique and thoughtful versions for performance. Last night’s opening number The Green Willow Tree was pieced painstakingly together by the band from twelve different recordings. No small feat!

It is a joy to experience a folk performance of such authenticity. Faustus has a deep affection for the folk community and a powerful connection to its boundless Celtic roots. These guys really are a credit to the name of modern traditional folk. I’m certain I’m not the only audience member to have found themselves whistling a round of Og’s Eye Man this morning. The magic of folk is more than revived; it’s thriving. Thank you, Faustus.

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