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The Gladstone Hotel on Loscoe Street in the Carrington district of Nottingham, was built in 1882 and was once presided over by a landlord called George Fryer, an amateur heavyweight boxing champion back in the day. He was also occasionally known as 'The Nottingham Slasher', which I imagine would prompt regulars to understand that when last orders were called, it really meant last orders. Times have changed since William Ewart Gladstone's day, the pub being built during his second premiership, yet from the outside it still bears all the hallmarks of a proper old English tavern with flickering lights visible through the frosted 'smoke room' glass windows. Set back slightly from the main Mansfield Road within the location known as the 'triangle', the pub has been home to the Carrington Triangle Folk Club for a good few years and tonight the club's special guest was Ruth Notman, beholder of one of the most distinctive voices on the British folk music scene.
Ruth was born and raised just up the road in Mansfield and ten years ago she released her debut album THREADS when she was just 17. Since then, Ruth has performed on some of the major stages up and down the country, has been involved in a handful of collaboration projects with her peers and has also released a second album THE LIFE OF LILY back in 2009. Since then though, we've heard little from the songstress and tonight we were given the opportunity to hear that special voice and her songs once again on her own turf. With her university studies having temporarily taken her away from music, Ruth put aside her dissertation, popped her piano, guitar and accordion into the car and made her way to the upstairs function room of The Gladstone Hotel to play her first gig in ages. "Are you nervous?" I asked before the show. "I'm petrified" she admitted.
Before singing a single note or striking a single chord, Ruth almost apologised for having been away for so long and informed her audience that much of the material tonight would be songs from her two albums. "I'm a bit out of practice" she confessed with one of her familiar giggles, before launching into Limbo, accompanying herself on the piano. Playing completely acoustically, alternating between piano, guitar and accordion, Ruth reached into the past to perform some of her best loved songs before a packed house. Throughout the evening, Ruth reminded us all of some of her own self-penned songs such as Over the Hill, Roaming and Lonely Day Dies, as well as other mainstays of her repertoire, Billy Don't You Weep for Me, Caledonia and The Hedger and Ditcher, which effectively puts her old pal Saul Rose out of a job, Ruth having taken up the piano accordion, serving as accompaniment to some of her new songs, such as As You Find Your Way Home, a gorgeous song inspired by a tragic accident near her home over Christmas, but also to deliver a pretty complicated tune, her fingers dancing all over the place. Ruth also braved venturing into Richard Thompson territory with a rather nice reading of Beeswing.
The audience couldn't get enough of Ruth tonight, eagerly demanding not one but two encore songs. "Do another four" came a cry from the audience. Putting aside her instruments, Ruth took to the floor in front of the small stage to sing the traditional Colcannon and the John Tams song Hold Back the Tide, both performed unaccompanied and both of which received strong audience participation. In true folk club fashion, Ruth's two sets, were complemented by other singers and musicians who got up around the room to sing songs, including Ruth's sister Amy, who delivered an utterly convincing performance of the Joan Baez song, Diamonds and Rust; two great voices in one family... can't be bad!