The English Folk Dance and Song Society are based in Cecil Sharp House, a large yet somewhat unassuming building in a quiet back street of Camden, North London. Opened in 1930, it is named after the English folk dance and song collector Cecil Sharp (1859-1924) and hosts a consistently high quality programme of music events, including courses and classes, lectures and conferences, visual art exhibitions and live performances by some of the very best artistes currently active on the ‘roots’ music scene.
The premier stage at Cecil Sharp House is Kennedy Hall – a grand and spacious wood paneled hall with high ceilings that might intimidate some bands. Not so on this cold, damp Thursday evening as in front of a packed hall the Boston based quartet Darlingside took to the stage and immediately conveyed an intimacy that defied the cavernous space. Comprising Harris Paseltiner on guitar and cello, Auyon Mukharji on violin and mandolin, David Senft on bass and drum, Don Mitchell on guitar and banjo, Darlingside formed in 2009 and have risen from the plethora of emerging folk/Americana acts to become one of the most highly rated acts currently performing. Taking a short break from recording their new album, they graced the Kennedy Hall stage for one of only two London shows before heading back into the studio.
The group are particularly renowned for their exquisite superpower harmonies and often draw comparison to late-60’s era acts like Simon & Garfunkel and The Byrds. However, Darlingside take this musical heritage and from it craft their own unique sound that is both fresh and modern. Performing songs from their most recent release, ‘Look Up & Fly Away’, as well as pulling older songs from their Boston hat, they filled the space with beautiful harmonies as well as drum/bass driven sounds that fused both heritage and modern perfectly. But this was a complete performance, not just a succession of songs but a performance of interaction with the audience that created an intimacy that is rarely seen in such large spaces. Stories told with a humorous smile and a stage presence that conveyed their obvious joy at being able to perform their songs to an appreciative audience. A particular highlight perhaps, in an evening of successive highlights, was a beautiful offstage performance at the back of the hall when four exquisite voices and a single guitar forced the audience to not only crane their necks backwards but also hold their breath so as to create the absolute silence that the harmonies deserved. This was a soul lifting evening of watching Darlingside perform with enormous grace and skilled musicianship whilst demonstrating that they clearly love what they do. The two standing ovations that they received confirmed that this Cecil Sharp House audience also loved what they do. Based on this performance, Darlingside are currently on top form. If folk/Americana had a 100m sprint then this Boston quartet might just grace the top of the podium following a photo-finish!
Darlingside are now returning to the studio to continue recording their follow-up album to Look Up & Fly Away with an expected release date in 2020. On the back of that much anticipated album of new material, they expect to revisit the UK next year for further shows, catch them if you can for a beautiful musical experience.