Ruskin Mill is one of those slightly hippy, Stroudie places of local artists and artisans, vegetarian food, Steiner principles and all set in an idyllic Cotswold valley of trout lakes, herons and beech trees. In so many ways an ideal place to hear contemporary folk music and I must admit to being surprised to seeing that the inestimable Heidi Talbot, her partner John McCusker, he of seemingly limitless talent and withering dry humour, and Ian Carr were due to play here, so close to home – surely some mistake?
But, no, despite the frankly chaotic ticketing arrangements, here they were and maybe I should just calm down a bit…Downstairs at Ruskin Mill is by anyone’s standards an intimate space, we were perhaps what, sixty, maybe seventy souls, assembled at most ten or fifteen feet from the trio. Heidi later professes to liking such close proximity, the opportunity to look people in the eye and check out the singing skills of the audience.
I have seen both Ms Talbot and Mr McCusker a few times before, but always in the company of the excellent Roddy Woomble, so it was a treat to hear them both at such close quarters singing and playing such timeless music. The set was largely comprised of material form Heidi Talbots exemplary latest album, The Last Star, but complemented with material from her second (?) album In Love and Light as well as a couple of fiddle-led segments from John McCusker.
The trio sounded and looked relaxed at this the last date of the tour, a little light banter, a story or two and some fine, fine songs. The audience didn’t take too much encouragement to sing along to songs like Music Tree and Tell Me Truly, but for me songs like Start It All Over Again, Time and The Last Star are those that strike the most deeply.
Such musicianship and talent; how much better is it to see and hear up close with minimal technical fripperies than the stand at the back of some faceless arena with the inevitable bombast and impersonality. To be honest I am not sure how Ruskin Mill managed to secure Heidi Talbot et al for this out of the way venue, but all credit to them for pulling it off. Andy Cutting is playing here on 24th May which too will be worth rolling along for – John McCusker entreated us all to get Andy Cutting to play some McCusker songs rather than it always be the other way around – time will tell if that will prove to be possible.
In the meantime grateful thanks to Heidi Talbot, John McCusker and the self-effacing Ian Carr for an excellent evening of music and companionship – lets hope they can be persuaded to come back to the Stroud valleys soon.