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  • Miles Hedley

CHURCHFITTERS at Mycenae House

Updated: May 20, 2019

Pound for pound, folk music has more than its fair share of virtuosi - but can sometimes come across as rather worthy, a strange backwater populated by purists and pedants. Which is why we need Churchfitters.


Multi-instrumentalist and singer Rosie Short, her fiddle-playing brother Chris and Breton bassist/inventor Boris Lebret are among the best musicians anywhere today. They are also among the most entertaining, as a gig at Mycenae House showed so eloquently.


In fact, Rosie and Chris told so many excellent stories about growing up in Croydon and their adventures on the road since then that they often forget to tell us the titles of the songs they were performing.


Not that it spoilt our enjoyment – their set-list was simply too amazing for that as they bombarded us with traditional reels, ballads, laments and original compositions played on violin, mandolin, ukulele, tin whistle, banjo, soprano sax, percussion and bass.


And speaking of bass… Boris makes all his own instruments and those on show at Mycenae House included an upright made from a motorcycle petrol tank, a bazouki hybrid fashioned from two Mercedes Benz hubcaps and a bass with a briefcase body.


He also used a funky low-register thumb-piano created from a frying pan and some old hacksaw blades. Its sound was astonishing - and was made even more so by Chris accompanying it on a musical saw.


The Churchfitters’ set itself was a wonderful mixed bag of moods, from Rosie’s lovely Be Not Afraid to medleys of reels written by Chris, one of which included a witty nod to cricket with a few bars of Booker T’s Soul Limbo, the old theme of BBC TV’s test match coverage.


Chris and Rosie have an almost telepathic understanding when they are performing, especially while duetting on fiddle and whistle. They also have a gift for fusion, demonstrated to best effect when Rosie picked up her soprano sax and turned what had been a folkie reel into a piece of pure jazz.


They rounded off the first half with a traditional song about Lady Luck that ended in Rosie and Boris playing a jaunty duet on brushes and wobble-board.


The second half included an upbeat version of Johnny Was A Shoemaker, which featured a beat provided by Boris’s miked-up shoes, a burst of rock and roll that segued into a traditional jig and – my favourite – a fabulous bluegrass take on the gleefully gory Cut Her Throat.


The trio encored with Sing, a gorgeous elegy to Chris and Rosie’s dad with its moving refrain: “Sing for our time on earth, sing for all we’re worth, old friends, old friends.”


In the course of this sensational evening, Churchfitters made us laugh, made us cry, made us sing along and made us want to dance. What more could anyone ask?