An hour with Lunatraktors, Carli Jefferson and Clair Le Couteur. Is probably worth two in the bush, such is the intensity and restrained dynamics. It sounds like it could be a Metal gig but far from it.
Their DIY debut album, This Is Broken Folk, was one of MOJO’s top ten folk albums of 2019. Challenging and sometimes uncomfortable, they bring a cold shower freshness to the sometimes stifling constraints and expectations of folk music.
As they admit, the virtual gig thing is a bit like the e-reader; handy but doesn’t replace the real thing. Logging on, we find The Preservation Room’s retro TV graphics spinning through and suddenly they’re there; standing before a handful of fluorescent tubes that look like they’ve been rescued from Bowies’ 78 stage set. Clair crooning through some dramatic characterisations while Carli dashes around the percussion kit.
“We haven’t frozen – we always do the freeze,” they say at the end of the opening song just in case we feel we need to refresh the link. And then the vocal “I’m sixteen thousand miles from home and my heart is fairly aching,” leads the deported prisoner folk charge accompanied by harmonium and more of their trademark inventive rhythm cum percussion.
Work on their second album is ongoing (aiming for a 31.10 release apparently) and the chance to see and hear some sketches of what could appear is a thrill. It’s going to be called The Missing Star and the instrumental sketch of the title track stars Clair’s work in progress of mastering the analogue synth. It’s only a work in progress but we get permission to “Go ahead and judge us!“
We then head back to The Turn Of The Plough; unaccompanied bar body percussion – and feels almost music hall. Their famous “bare bones of rhythm and voice” accompany Bonnie Boy and a quick body percussion, drone and vocal improvisation lead us to the interval! In all seriousness, the latter is where the duo really come into their own and feed off each other
As the viewers flit around the 130 mark, the temptation to briefly flick around and have a moment amongst the 6000 or so watching Frank Turner proves too great. Guess it’s just the equivalent of dashing around the city or the festival grounds to see what’s happening elsewhere. To be frank (…sorry) it’s quickly back to Clair & Carli. In fact, I have two screens running, one slightly behind, and have the chance to watch the pre-interval improvised piece again during the break. (Frank’s belting out The Road and freezing btw).
Black Raven starts the second half with Carli hidden beneath what I’d politely call a shawl (a lace tablecloth is probably more like the case). Tribal rhythms and deep incantations and we’re seriously into broken folk territory.
“Another song about birds,” and I never expected Feed The Birds (Tuppence A Bag) that I’d associate with Mary Poppins. And you know, I’ll wager that Julie Andrews would be so into that version. Meanwhile, while we all add our judgments in the comments box in virtual applause, “The silence in the box is the most peculiar thing!” is the response onstage. Another new sketch with a bird theme – Magpie – has words; they may come at some stage and has Clair tweaking the synth, living the Hawkwind dream.
Another unrecognised one, set on drones, simple handclaps and much more restrained turns out to be Ecclesiastes from the Old Testament. Such is the handy comments box where the viewers are adding their appreciation and comments and much better than trying a mid-gig discussion.
The covers too weigh in with a song by Earl Robinson about Joe Hill – the labour activist of the 1900’s – and yes, Paul Robeson would have been proud of the soul in Clair’s delivery and we see the set close with a self-conscious, how do we do this, bow and Leonard Cohen’s Lover Lover Lover.
Let’s do this again seems to be the general consensus. And while it’s not quite the same as sharing a room it’s been good to finally catch the Lunatraktors live experience in its shape shifting glory.