How Do You Do, Brother Crow?

English Country-Folk Concert Review

I wanted to share with my readers a touch of English Country-Folk music from Weardale in Northern England, just an hour south of Scotland and officially anArea Of Outstanding Natural Beauty is a popular destination amongst foreign visitors for its beautiful scenery and proud history. The sounds produced in this concert were very reflective of the people, roots and stories of this area.

This dexterous storytelling-folk duo consists of talented songwriter Andrew Davison on vocals, who alternates between the cutaway semi-acoustic guitar and a ten-string bouzouki and Graeme Carroll on a mandolin I can only describe as producing an immensely enchanting sound. As I arrive, the jocular duo welcomes me in to enjoy their upcoming three hours of entertainment. I am instantly blown away, not by the outdoor Pennine tempest but by the very first track they perform, A Thousand Hidden Footpaths, one to appear on a future album. As Andrew’s voice wistfully echoes singing “this land is in my blood it’s all I’ve ever known,” you can just imagine the duo walking the Pennine hills together, Andrew’s haunting, enrapturing voice projecting into the silent night air. As I do, the next line about “faded evening light” justifies my thoughts.

“Our music is quite downbeat”, Graeme Carroll elucidates. The adroit duo are consciously aware of their running themes of “death and destruction” including true stories of regional plane and train crashes plus murders and hardship in Weardale, England. Their black humour and comical anecdotes on stage retain the audience’s light-hearted mood though, to which Graeme playfully adds “we accidentally won two song contests.” Brother Crow have in fact won the Durham Traditional Music Festival two years running and have accumulated over 11,000 hits on their MySpace page A unique experience musically, the evening presents a profound insight into true characters from our local history. How Do You Do Tom Barton? tells of the 1908 catastrophe when a local miner Tom Barton puts his life on the line to rescue a child from a fire leaving him badly burnt; he is then tragically killed only weeks later in a sudden mining accident. The song Hollow Hills has local roots too: it came about through Richard Watson, a late 1800s poet and Weardale lead miner who fell upon hard times.

Andrew Davison’s raw empathy for the misfortunes infuses the atmospheric guitar surges complimenting his clever lyrics, the dramatic strums interjecting his spoken narrative in mid-song of No Money for the Widows, a tale about William Stones from Crook. William was in the nineteenth Durham Light Infantry along with a man known as “Goggins”. The emotionally vigorous and haunting acapella at the start of the song echo through your bones like a troubled spirit; Andrew then explains how William Stones was falsely charged with desertion and shot in the hills, the “bravest of men right down to his bones; take all those generals who judged him so wrong; stand them where he stood that cold winter’s morn.” As Children We Would Run is about a train crash that took place between Willington and Hunwick in County Durham, in which the driver and a fireman were both killed. I become instantly addicted to a new song Andy has written with the hook line “dream of flight”. It certainly makes your imagination tick; the song is about a plane crash. Juxtaposing the lyrics, the chords descend and somehow give a vivid mental image of a descending plane crashing in slow motion. This is followed by an ascending melody of Graeme’s mandolin, like a wispy spirit rising. Talk about talent!

Irishman Tony Lovell is the inspiration for Once There Were So Few. Tony was the youngest World War II pilot in 1939: his plane was shot down on two occasions, but he triumphantly survived both times. The heartbreaking realisation is that he went on to teach RAF recruits and was killed in a spitfire crash just two days after the war had ended. The tragic ironies around which Brother Crow’s songs are centred are finely counterbalanced by major keys in the songs, not to mention the high uplifting octaves produced by Graeme Carroll’s skilful plucking on the mandolin. His intense performance leads to him actually cutting his finger during the second half. Cutting edge indeed!

Now for the instruments: I just have to ask Graeme about his mandolin. He tells me how this is a very rare Capek hand-made from the Acoustic Music Company in Brighton who supply the best acoustic instruments in the whole of the UK. The flame maple wood of the instrument is felled and kept for thirty years to achieve its tonal qualities. It is in fact the special combination of varnish on the instrument which gives it its unique sound. Graeme goes on to explain: “I have been playing the mandolin since I was 25 and this one is by far my favourite.”

One person at the concert commented “I have seen Joe Brown perform live on the mandolin and Graeme Carroll equals his performance if not better. Andrew Davison’s voice strongly resembles John Denver particularly in Bird Song in the Morning.” Another family-themed classic is Let the Dance Go On. Brother Crow’s influences do indeed include John Denver amongst other artists such as Bruce Springsteen and Mark Knopfler, who makes reference to this area in his 2002 song Hill Farmer’s Blues.

More uplifting tracks start to shine through in the concert’s second half.Bingology from the second album Hollow Hills is a real foot-tapper. The playful jig is about Graeme’s greyhound, Bingo. The upbeat composition The Aaron Set is also about a dog. Road To Who Knows Where is both uplifting and soul-touching. Brother Crow’s two current albums Hollow Hills and One for Sorrow produced by their own record label “Brother Crow Records” are available for purchase via their website For more information about the band themselves, drop them a line at Fans can subscribe to their mailing list…and for those of you self-confessed non-folk fans out there: after hearing this duo, you will think again.

Though I would describe their music as that of timeless acoustic beauty with a melancholy twist, the concert’s mood instils a feeling of cosiness and the desire to wrap up in a blanket by a roaring fire in a traditional Weardale pub. The duo are actively touring and Andy will also be performing solo at the Pennine Fells Music Weekend at the end of this month.

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