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Stretching folk to the edge

Paul James' new band makes impressive debut at ACE Space

REVIEW by TONY TRIGWELL-JONES: Paul James and the Drowned Lovers
at ACE Space, on Saturday, March 23

BEFORE the highly-anticipated headliners debuted at ACE Space on Saturday, the capacity crowd was treated to the soulful country harmonies of HendrickxRoy. Treating choice covers (The Civil Wars, Alison Moyet and Newbury’s own Des Simmons) and originals to Hendrickx’s crystal clarity and Roy’s passionate delivery, each song was explored to the last exquisite note. Like red wine on a cold night they are warm, heady and deeply satisfying.

Transcending time, culture and genre, Paul James and the Drowned Lovers stretch folk music to the edges of definition; fusing samples, blistering rock, prog, jazz, indie, Baltic, klezmer, and traditional song in a white-hot
melting pot of songs about death, love and death caused by love.

The opening Rolling of the Stones was a statement of intent, as band members took turns on brief solos, sometimes holding tight, sometimes opening up and letting loose. The rhythm section of Emma Holbrook (drums) and Jo Wadeson (bass) were amazingly tight, holding everything together through free jazz to a march as the song (apparently from Brittany) drew to a staggering close.

James’ scholastic knowledge of the folk tradition is matched only by his passion for it and many songs come with a story, from his long-standing love of Shirley Collins to the tale of his first songbook (Folk Songs of the Thames) from Newbury library when he was a rebellious 15-year-old. A personal highlight was James’ original composition Once There Was a Lone Wolf, which kicked off with an old recording of a Siberian shamanic chant, underscoring another epic, sprawling prog-jazz-free-folk explosion of joyous noises; with the backline solid, Chris Moore’s keyboards sang like whale song, soothed and attacked by discordant guitar slides and stabs courtesy of Victor Nicholls, while Fiona Barrow’s plaintive violin wept, and Paul James’ saxophone played a sonic dance through it all – and all while holding down a groove.

Choice covers, included Neil Young’s Cortez the Killer and the show’s closing number, The Smiths’ Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want. However, what really stood out was the love for local musician Des Simmons whose Big Corn also features on the Paul James and the Drowned Lovers debut album, which is out now. You can download it here: https://pauljames.eu/listen-buy but of course I’d recommend catching them live.

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