Friday, 19 November 2010

Sparrow and the Workshop @ Borderline

“Everyone looking forward to Sparrow and the Workshop? They told us some really weird stories last night about eyeballs and the possibility of them being impregnated”

So begins one of the least folky folk gigs in history. Faux-lk if you like. Not since Dylan went electric has there been such a rude awakening for fans of cable knit jumpers. There's not a banjo in sight and, shock horror, most of the people on the bill don't even have beards.Admittedly, support act Sketches are not billing themselves as mandolin-wielding troubadours. With the soaring operatic vocals of Matt Bellamy and the brooding guitar of Radiohead they’re far more post-rock than that (and wearing harem pants). But, in a move that should have the Trade Descriptions Act all over them, S&TW's MySpace describes them as “dark folk” It's a little more complicated than that, as those in the know at The Borderline can testify. Folk-punk doesn't quite cut it. Sparrow and The Workshop are nothing like The Pogues. Alt country doesn't suit them either.

No, a better description would be post-country. Throughout the night Jill O'Sullivan's voice sits somewhere between June Carter and Dolly Parton (even though she's from the Mid-West) but sounds like them throwing all their toys out of the pram. Put it this way, if Dolly Parton had grown up listening to Television and throwing temper tantrums, it might have gone a little like tonight's gig. Chugging, menacing guitars end the songs in feedback and the drums are so fierce that they ricochet off the already claustrophobic walls. Pete Seeger it ain't.

As each song starts out, the band seem to have the purest of intentions – all three-part harmonies and softness – but that’s just the calm before the storm, and it's not long before it all degenerates into a gloriously snarling whirlwind. ‘I Will Break You’ sounds like 'Scarborough Fair' twisted into a chamber of horrors, whilst songs like 'Against The Grain' are like a satanic flamenco with the feel of an Ennio Morricone score. If there did have to be a shoot-out on the pavements of W1 after, then this could be its theme tune.

Overall the mood is similar to the film Deliverance. You think it's going to be all fun and frolics in fields of corn with a friendly yokel, but suddenly you find yourself locked in a hoedown in hell. “I'd like to chase you through the woods / But I know I'm far too slow”, growls Jill like the crazy, leather-faced guy from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. When it comes time to showcase their new single 'Black to Red', the band are rocking so hard that guitarist Nick manages to lose a string. “That was pretty rock and roll there,” he says as the song grinds to a halt. Can you imagine Steeleye Span ever busting enough of a gut to destroy their instruments? Of course not, and that's why S&TW are such an energising live prospect. Even Mumford and Sons, for their entire banjo thrashing ways, look like Cliff Richard compared to this lot. Despite this, for all their darkness, there's a lot of sweetness and light being directed towards the audience, who are constantly being thanked for their presence. The band even admits that when they get off stage they'll probably have a little cry about how well it all went.

Before they go though, there's just time for some more fruity on-stage banter “Have you seen the new film called Masturbation?” asks Jill. “That's because it hasn't come out yet”. Boom, boom!

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