In the flesh: Karine Polwart

I went to see Karine Polwart last night at the Glee Club in Birmingham. She were ace. I have only got her first album “Faultlines” and whilst it is all very nice and has at least a couple of real standout tracks (Waterlily and The sun’s coming over the hill) it wasn’t an album that exactly swept me off my feet.  So I have to admit that whilst I was keen on going to see her I wasn’t expecting to be quite as impressed as I was. I suspect that part of  the problem is that I haven’t given the cd enough attention. She played two sets of around ten songs each and mixed up songs from “Faultlines” and “Scribbled in Chalk” with odd tracks that she has recorded with other people such as her contribution to the”Ballad of the Book” cd and her collaboration with Future Pilot AKA. She was accompanied by her brother Stephen Polwart, also on guitar and Inge Thomson (who reminded me of a very youthful Zandra Rhodes) who played all sorts including accordian, bass melodica, cymbal and bells. Karine’s intersong banter indicated that she was a thoroughly lovely human being without any apparent self importance or ego. Her warm voice with its clearly audible Scottish lilt was wonderful and the accompaniment was excellent, particularly her brother’s guitar playing. The one thing that I like her for as much as anything is that she does Politics. She clearly thinks about things (she has a philosophy degree) and is not afraid to write songs which reflect her political leanings. Whilst I have some sympathy with the view that pop music and politics shouldn’t mix (there will always be room for inane mindless eurobeat on my stereo) , folk music and politics have always been bedfellows if not actually the same thing and I don’t actually think that there is enough  politics in any type of music these days (or indeed society as a whole – I suppose that the music which is out there is reflecting the mindset of the population. A worrying thought). Can you imagine the pop stars of today taking part in something like Red Wedge ? (And it did involve pop stars and not just the leftist indie fraternity) If you want to know her views then I suggest you listen to some of her tunes. Her songs are a mix of personal and political themes and sometimes both at the same time and the last thing she comes across as is preachy. Listen to “Only one way” which suggests that we should make all the trouble we can. And why the hell shouldn’t we get off our complacent arses and do something about this awful world we are letting our “leaders” create whilst we play away with our anaesthetic television and media and mobile phones and cars and self involvement and internet (Was that a cry of “hypocrisy!” I heard over there) . The kids in their twenties who work in my office, when asked, admit to never having been involved in a political rally or march in their lives. They can hardly complain when things start to go horribly horribly wrong if they don’t take an interest in politics. (See “Skater on the surface” from “Faultlines”). She also has some great straightforward life songs such as “Follow the Heron” and simple and catchy songs of positivity like “I’m gonna do it all” (which has apparently been taken up as a regular song of choice for infants at a significant number of primary schools across the country. Lucky kids).

 Her humanism shines through and makes for an lovely heartwarming evening with space for thinking as well as celebration.



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