LIVE REVIEW: Gwenifer Raymond, Cath & Phil Tyler, SL Walkinshaw @ The Cumberland Arms, Newcastle (22.04.22) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Gwenifer Raymond by Jinnwoo

As a hopeless case incapable of mustering even the most basic chord, it’s difficult to observe Gwenifer Raymond without feeling a twinge of jealously. Nonsensical jealously, of course – talent cannot be hoarded, no matter how uneven its distribution. Even so, as the Welsh guitarist’s fingers waltz across her strings – their speed as enthralling as the sounds they produce – it’s tempting to ponder whether there may indeed be some form of witchcraft at play.

No matter their origin, any resentment feels impractical when those gifts are put to such superlative use. Indeed, so mesmerising are these lengthy instrumentals that when she announces Hell For Certain as the last, you’re taken aback that her hypnotic spell has been working its magic for the best part of an hour. Bare-footed; crouched over her instrument; face hidden behind a mop of hair – it’s perhaps Raymond’s keenness to allow her music to do the talking which renders it so effective in suspending time.

Mining the more gothic corners of folk and blues, these ‘American primitive’ pieces are filled with riveting tones and dazzlingly intricacies, with her most recent record, 2020’s Strange Lights Over Garth Mountain, supplying several standouts. Gwaed am Gwaed, for instance, cascades with sumptuous proto-metallic menace, while the aforementioned Hell For Certain’s climatic rush could just as easily be mistaken for two – perhaps even three – musicians performing in unison.

There’s potty-mouthed self-deprecation, perhaps a tad too much whiskey, and at one stage she even fumbles a song about her friend’s dead dog – yet none of this threatens to stymie an artist in full flow. After all, as one audience member pipes up, being “quite good at guitar” isn’t exactly a bad trick to fall back on.

Earlier, promoter Wandering Oak had elevated the evening further still with a pair of terrific supports. Veterans on the local folk circuit, Cath & Phil Tyler’s capacity to delight is as extensive as their catalogue, with no two performances ever feeling interchangeable. There are times tonight where you worry whether Cath’s health problems will prevent her from completing their set. Suspended on crutches, she hardly cuts a picture of comfort. Crucially, though, the power of her singing remains undiminished; it’s earthy timbre and coarse imperfections proving an eternally gorgeous channel for the couple’s trademark harmonies and blend of English and Appalachian vignettes.


SL Walkinshaw, meanwhile, uses his improvised opening set to realign the elements which made last year’s Tape/String a source of late lockdown-era solace. A rich collage of ambient keys, found sound birdsong, tape hiss and spectral drone, Walkinshaw’s absorbing soundworld proves wondrous whatever its form; a sonic headspace whose stillness and serenity eventually lulls even the chatters at the back into a bewitched silence.

Come to think of it, I envy all these talented fuckers.

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