Monday, 1 September 2014

Wodwo and the Carolina Chocolate Drops

Between stints of poetry brochure and kitty cat delivering, and manuscript checking and book launch planning, I've managed to squeeze in a bit of culture over the last few weeks.  One Saturday afternoon in August we broke off from brochure lugging to see the Bristol Young Vic's 20th anniversary production, a conflation of Ted Hughes' poem, Wodwo, about a strange woodland spirit with original material from the cast to make a 50 minute play that was creative and challenging, yet lost none of the original's mystery. 

And the week before last it was the sumptuous Carolina Chocolate Drops at St George's Hall. What a delight!  Here's a review I wrote of the gig for the local rag: 


The Carolina Chocolate Drops: St George’s Hall, Bristol

The Carolina Chocolate Drops is an old-time string band, formed in 2005 to promote a wide range of African American music, from country and blues, early jazz and string band numbers to African and Caribbean songs and spoken word.  Its line-up has changed several times in the intervening years, the sole remaining founder member Rhiannon Giddens currently joined by multi-instrumentalists Hubby Jenkins and Rowan Corbett, and virtuosic cellist Malcolm Parson (surely the coolest man on the planet). 

A rapt St George’s audience listened and even jigged in their seats a little as vocalist Giddens took us on a historical journey through her native North Carolina and the southern United States.  Not that anyone should assume that the respect with which the members of band approach their musical heritage makes for a staid and unimaginative performance.  The variety of instruments used, from fiddle, cello, guitar and banjo to cajón, djembe and bones, and the exuberant skill with which they were played, was riveting.

But for me it was Giddens’ sublime voice that defined the evening.  Whether she was singing her own songs, inspired by the slave stories she’d encountered in her research, covers like Hank Williams’ ‘Please Don’t Let Me Love You’ and Ethel Waters’ ‘No Man’s Mama’, an upbeat song about divorce, or an almost incantatory piece of Gaelic mouth music, its power and  versatility was never less than astounding.  My absolute favourite was ‘Waterboy’, a traditional American folk song based on the call ‘Water boy, where are you hidin’?’, one of several water boy calls in cotton plantation folk tradition and positively bone-shivering.  

Rarely have I seen such uniformly ecstatic faces exiting a gig.  If traditional music is your thing, do yourself a favour and check them out. 

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