A Witches Prayer; What are the modern witches trying to tell us?

Another new venue for me, a church in the centre of Southend now converted for use as a drama college and theatre. Tonight the subject was witches and music. As a fund raiser for the free Leigh Folk Festival it was an excellent line-up but sadly not full. This may have been down to the lack of publicity. Unless you were in the local folk scene you may have known nothing about this gig. I only heard of it through twitter. I’ll moan about this again later but to the music itself.
The theme of the evening was witches, obvious from the title really. However, this is not the warty nosed child eating witch of old. Each artist had own version of updating our perceptions of witches.
The first band up were a duo, Greanvine, both ex-members of The Owl Service. They were only given three songs to make an impact. Despite some lovely singing it took until the third song for them to really achieve this. Their brand of electric folk sounds like its trying to experiment with new sounds but doesn’t make it. Having said that, the third piece was a traditional song yet had some swing to it. Maybe with more songs they could’ve expanded. Maybe it was the curse of being first on.
Next up was Jo Moore, a local author who has a couple of novels about Essex witches. The readings and history of witches set the scene for the rest of the evening. Intriguing to hear that the Witchfinder General was, at the most, 27 when he died.
Following this was solo singer Jason Steel. I’ve now looked him up on YouTube and discovered I’ve had opportunities to see him before and should’ve taken them. His set was based on The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s play about witches, which is of course, not really about witches. Playing acoustic guitar, finger picking with a similar sound to John Fahey, and then singing with a distinctive, emotional voice. One song began with a bow being drawn across a banjo, creating a near electronic ambient sound. The songs focused on different emotions or sins, some likely to be more fun than others. It was a great set of tender songs.
The final set was Darren Hayman, who I’ve been a fan of since Hefner. He now sings a kind of electric folk with modern stories. Although the latest album details the Essex witch trails of a few centuries ago, previous albums have been more contemporary. Stories of sex, cars, hospitals and prams. The first song starts with a threat of violence but this is only setting the scene for sex in a local beauty spot. The witch songs that followed did a wonderful thing of being both about a terrible time in history and scary times in relationships. The band were great, able to create sound and harmonies to suit tales of 21st Century folk.
This was an excellent bill and really good music, its just a shame it was not full. The music deserved a bigger audience and I can’t help thinking it might have had that with more advertising. There was an article in the local paper but nothing in the entertainment listings. Great music, neat venue, not enough people.