Oka Vanga, Green Note, London, 26th March 2018

The Green Note in Camden Town is always a pleasure to step inside. It’s one of those venues where the acts are chosen on the grounds of their pedigree and the atmosphere is always friendly. Tonight was no exception and while the audience settled in with bottled porter and locally made carrot cake, up stepped Oka Vanga to the stage. They were returning to familiar territory in a venue which helped launch their career and to where they find themselves drawn back like moths to the flame.

Having accumulated three records, a FATEA award and national critical acclaim they were back to promote their latest release ‘Dance Of The Copper Trail’ to a typically appreciative if understated Camden turnout. Without further ado, the red velvet curtain shut out the buzz of indie kids around next door’s famous Dublin Castle and the intricate spells started to weave their magic. Seldom has a folk act played off each other with such opposite attraction. There’s a yin and yang sensibility about this partnership which ignites fireworks in intimate venues and festivals alike. The music blends perfectly. Angie is sonorous, rich and harmonious while Will plays slightly aggressively with technical excellence (a nod to his metal years) and the whispers around the venue indicated a sense of knowing that a savvy crowd like this one displays when bearing witness to a class act.

Oka Vanga drafted upright bass prodigy Ollie Copeland some time ago and he provides the backbone to the bands’ live performances, not to mention being a musician of the highest order. Having him as an anchor allows Will and Angie unrestrained access to their music, no need for holding back, safe in the knowledge that Ollie has their backs.  When they launch hell for leather into ‘Whisky For Sorrow,’ which some might’ve been under the impression was a gentle paganistic ballad, it becomes clear that here is an act who have shifted their focus in recent times. They have moved away from the global instrumental folk of debut album ‘Pilgrim’ towards a more predominantly vocal, structured style,  a little more upbeat and hip-swinging in places – dare I say mainstream…?  There were stirrings of consternation amongst some of us on the floor, a feeling of, ‘I know this is a hold-your-position, clap-admiringly, type affair but DAMN, I just wanna get up and dance!’ These urges became stronger as the gig went on, with the band showcasing more material from ‘Copper Trail’ along with some new, even more exhilarating tracks such as ‘Storm Flower’. This bastion of traditional folk was starting to come alive with two-stepping feet and then a sudden sigh seemed to swirl around the ankles of the ladies’ modest skirts. We were back on familiar ground with the single ‘She Moved through the Fair,’ the well-known Irish folk song recorded by everyone from Van Morrisson and Led Zeppelin to John Martyn to Boyzone, but Angie’s soaring Cape Town accent brings a new dynamic to the song which it has been said sets it apart from the rest and Oka Vanga were in complete control.

The big question ultimately was whether we were we witnessing a transitional phase or a versatile band who like to keep their audience guessing. We could gather enough evidence from Will and Angie’s customary between song banter along with the direction of songs such as ‘This Train’ with its locomotive backbeat to come to the conclusion that they are indeed looking to lean in a slightly more country sounding direction as they start sounding out producers for the next album. They encored with a positively Americana cover of ‘These Boots Are Made For Walking’ and then they were gone, leaving a satisfied Camden Town contemplating the next chapter in the story of this folklore-spinning musical dynamo.

Author: Tim Merricks

Just a regular Joe with a country blues disposition.

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