Over the last year or so it was inevitable that some great music would slip under the radar. In 2018 AUK’s Jeremy Searle predicted great things for Midnight Skyracer, and then the trail went cold. Following their independent debut album, ‘Fire’ in 2018, they were picked up by Island imprint Mighty Village, with much made of them being the first bluegrass act signed by a major UK label. That was March 2020, the album ‘Shadows On the Moon’ crept out in June without the fanfare that it might generally have expected. This was a shame because it’s excellent.
Fast forward to October 2021 and they are back on the road. I saw them at the wonderful St Georges in Bristol last week. Forced by travel restrictions to tour without Banjo player and singer Tabitha Benedict the songs inevitably changed from the album versions. Charlotte Carrivick took on Banjo duties and shared the guitar work with guest Vera van Heeringen. The Banjo became more about colour than soloing as Charlotte’s style is very different to Benedict’s playing on record . This actually worked to the benefit of the songs for me, as there was more ensemble playing, with the solo voices being guitar, and Carrivick’s sister Laura on Dobro and Fiddle.
For a current Bluegrass band the Alison Krauss and Union Station comparison is the elephant in any room. Midnight Skyracer overcome this by adding more than a touch of the Celtic to their music. On record the instrumental ‘Steaming Buzzard’ (don’t ask, they explained it but…) has a very Irish feel, and a number of Laura Carrivick’s other fiddle solos were born in the South of Donegal rather than South of the Mason Dixon line. The music has enough of the British Isles about it that you would never mistake Midnight Skyracer for anything than what they are. An Anglo-Irish band with a love of Bluegrass and playing it with a passion and heart that makes the colour of their passports irrelevant. My companion who had seen them before said that the show lacked Benedict’s big personality, but for me the interaction and sharing of the between song chat made for a good feel to the pace of the show.
Some of Tabitha Benedict’s songs were sung by Vera van Heeringen who joined in about halfway through the first set. Her voice has a similar quality to Benedict’s. However, particularly on ‘Right Here With You’ she added her own more relaxed delivery that made the songs her own. Van Heeringen was given a brief solo spot at the start of the second set. ‘Dinah’ and ‘Never Enough Time’ were good enough but having subsequently heard them on record they are far better there. Van Heeringen is worth investigating as her usual trio is great. Bits of folk from a variety of countries, and Americana blend into a style that is all her own. Her lyrics can be an acquired taste but the music, especially guitarist Dave Luke, is never less than excellent
So, if you missed Midnight Skyracer over the last year, get Shadows on the Moon, and catch them when they come to your town. The Carrivick Sisters will jump straight off this tour into their own and I’m looking forward to catching them at Downend Folk Club in Bristol, which is a bigger deal than it sounds…