Sunday, 13 March 2016

Live Review: Faustus - South Street Arts Centre, Reading – 05/03/16

The sudden chords in the intro of “The Green Willow Tree” catapults the stage into life in the opening moments of Faustus’ live set, before Benji Kirkpatrick picks up his guitar and bursts into song. Accomplished musicianship and strong vocals are obvious at the start as all three members of the band weave between different timings and melodies purely in the first song alone. The chorus is catchy, and has the crowd immediately joining in with captivated enthusiasm. It was at this point at the end of the opening I noticed how full the room had suddenly become as the band were greeted with applause from an almost sold-out crowd between songs.

Photo Credit: Michael Ainscoe Photography

A certain warmness and air for friendly banter was good to see between the songs: as evident from my earlier interview all three musicians are clearly good friends; that definitely helps the audience ease into the show by providing even more entertainment whilst getting ready to play the next song. The band are accomplished ad-libbers, it seems too, with a nice save from Saul whilst Benji took slighty longer than expected to tune his bouzouki at one point in the first half. It was also pleasing to see that the band were not unaware of the recent strains South Street Arts Centre had been put under, with Paul commenting that it’s good to see that the venue is still standing despite council cuts to the arts budget.

Through the first half, the lighting was good; adding to a captivating performance, though by the second half the plainness of the lights is starting to get a bit tiresome. Three songs in, and we’ve already heard all three voices, creating an interesting democratic element on the stage of each band member showcasing his wares – in the form of song arrangements, before Faustus begin to slip tunes into the show as well. Again, the instrumental arrangements are made interesting with these.

I had never heard of Bill Caddick before Benji told me about him in my interview with the band before the show, but their cover of his “Oh To Be A King” definitely made me want to give him a listen. The crowning moment of the first half for me, however, was “The Deadly Sands”, which I’d previously heard them sound checking. Introduced by Saul as a new song that he’d put together a mere five days before the show as part of their Halsaway Manor residency, it seemed to delight the audience and has definitely confined me to waiting in anticipation for the new album coming later this year. The Bellowhead references in the last song before the interval were slightly predictable, (“Rosemary Lane, as recently arranged by folk supergroup Bellowhead.” “Who’re they?”) but no less amusing for it.

The lamenting ballad of “The American Stranger” that began the second half did no less to capture audience attention with the band displaying an excellent stage presence even in the slower and less-bouncy parts of the show. One thing that struck me as odd, however, was that we were three songs through the second half before Paul picked up, for the first time, the oboe that had been featuring prominently at the centre of the stage for most of the gig. Whilst appreciating that the oboe is not generally an instrument associated with folk music, anyone who has seen Bellowhead or Belshazzar’s Feast should know that Paul is an accomplished player, and it would have been good to see more of the instrument during the Faustus show.

Who says old songs can’t still be politically appropriate to a modern audience? Songs of class struggle with Bullingdon Club references were amusing to see as the evening began to draw down to a close. I had been sitting at the very front, and moved to the back for a song or two where I did notice that Saul’s microphone suddenly seemed a bit quieter compared to the other levels, it could have benefitted from being louder so that what he was singing was more audible. When I moved back to the front, the moment came that we’d all been waiting for: the foot-stomping shanty of “Og’s Eye Man”, with chorus belted out by both audience and band alike. There was, pleasingly, only a short amount of the musical narcissism that constitutes an encore with the band only waiting a few seconds before taking the stage again for the real finisher: the title track of their second album, “Broken Down Gentlemen”, with an extended tune at the end to finish off the crowd.

There were a few areas for improvement, but all in all I was completely blown away by Faustus. I had never listened to them much before but I’m definitely a fan now, and looking forward to the next time I can see them live. I would have loved to hear “Banks of the Nile”, the one song I did know before going to the show, which ended up not being played, but I’m sure there’ll be time for that in the future. It did seem to fly by awfully fast though, with the show starting at 20:00 and finishing at 22:00; if they had brought a support band on tour with them, or even arranged for a local act to play a short set, I think the evening would have seemed more complete. Regardless of this, the trio of Faustus are tour-de-force on stage, and definitely worth seeing.

The Setlist:

The Green Willow Tree

Lovely Johnny

The Prentice Boy / Highland Mary

The Wonder Hornpipe / Quantock Leap

Oh To Be A King

The Deadly Sands

An Acre of Land / Lumps of Plum Pudding


The American Stranger

The Betrayed Maiden

The Thresherman

Blow the Windy Morning

Harry Kitchener’s Jig / Piper’s Rehash

Ballina Whalers / The 18th of July

Og’s Eye Man / Ring Her Bell


Broken Down Gentlemen / Bobbing Joan

Facebook: /faustusmusic
Twitter: @FaustusFolk

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