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Hannah Sanders (Spring Showcase)

The Ukrainian Centre, Doncaster
Saturday 21 February 2015

Once again the Ukrainian Centre in Doncaster provided the venue for another Spring Showcase, an early fund raising event in aid of the forthcoming Doncaster Folk Festival, which is due to take place in mid-May. Tonight the stage was set for four diverse acts; a couple of solo singers, a duo (in effect) and a full six-piece band to finish the night off with. The main achievement of the planning stage of the event, it has to be said, was to secure an appearance by singer Hannah Sanders, whose debut solo album has just been released to critical acclaim. The Norwich-born, now Cambridgeshire-based singer was the first to arrive at the venue this afternoon along with fellow musician, producer and collaborator Ben Savage. Huddled in the dressing room behind the stage, the two musicians planned their set, whilst the PA was being set up by Mick Jenkinson and John Curry.     

Mick assumed his regular role as the familiar face of the festival's organising committee, hosting the event from the stage and introducing each of the acts in turn, delivering parish notices and keeping everyone informed as the evening went on. The event not only provided a well-considered programme of singers and musicians, but also an appetising homemade supper, which also contributed in turn to a warm and welcoming atmosphere, in much the same manner as the organisers strive to achieve at the main festival each year in May. Tonight's concert attracted a healthy audience in terms of numbers, with regulars and new visitors to the venue, which is always good to see. 

Opening the concert was singer/songwriter and local record shop owner Alistair Pearson, whose self-penned songs were just the thing to get the concert off to a good start. Starting with his song Utopia, the relaxed singer, whose record shop name was emblazoned across his chest, eased the audience into an evening of fine music all around. Alistair closed his set with a song called The Music, which is his own homage to the music that rescued him after a successful lung transplant in 2010.

Dashing in literally at the last moment was local singer/poet/writer Jade-Lee Saxelby, whose appearance was largely due to the fact that she won the festival's songwriting competition last year. The singer quickly managed to get a drink from the bar, slip her coat off and place her guitar on her knee within seconds, launching almost exhaustedly into her first song, a clever amalgam of her own Hip-Hop styled rap Lonely People and the Fab Four's Eleanor Rigby. Jade also presented a brand new song called The Porch Song in Yellow Major, revealing the fact that this performer sees all musical chords in colours. Well, don't you? 

By mid-evening, the stage was reorganised for the main set by Hannah Sanders, for whom a cluster of seats and mike stands had been arranged so closely together that the intimacy of the performance was already suggested before it had begun. Opening with a delightful a cappella rendition of A Sailor's Life, Hannah's voice was treated to the silence it so very much deserved. Accompanied by Ben Savage of Cambridgeshire band The Willows, who are no strangers to this venue themselves, having played at the festival twice already, the two musicians huddled quite close together throughout the set. The set included a selection of songs from Hannah's much discussed debut record Charms Against Sorrow including I Gave My Love a Cherry, The Werewolf and Bonnie Bunch of Roses, coupled with the instrumental Mayflower Stranger, which demonstrated the fact that Hannah's no mean guitar picker. The duo also popped into the set a fine rendition of Woody Guthrie's Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key, memorably developed by Billy Bragg and Wilko for the Mermaid Avenue project.

Towards the end of the set, Hannah produced her exquisite baritone dulcimer for an excellent reading of I'll Weave My Love a Garland, with Ben accompanying her on dobro, two instruments that go so well together. Whilst the duo were in mid-flow, it crossed my mind that a perfect end to the set would be a Joni Mitchell song such as A Case of You, one of the singer's best loved and most iconic mountain dulcimer accompanied songs. Astonishingly, this is precisely what Hannah sang next. "When you buy a dulcimer you have to sign an agreement that in every set you play a Joni Mitchell song otherwise you get your license revoked" quipped Hannah; "rightly so" replied an audience member. 

The concert was brought to its conclusion courtesy of the Jon Palmer Acoustic Band, whose fine blend of stomping rebel songs, country rock-fused foot-tappers and feel-good dance numbers provided a fitting climax to a much enjoyed concert, with songs including Deadmen, Friday Night in a Northern Town and the crowd-pleasing Dirty Old Town.

The Doncaster Folk Festival takes place at the Ukrainian Centre, Beckett Road in Doncaster on Friday 15- Sunday 17 May 2015. More info: http://www.doncasterfolkfestival.org.uk  

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky