Magpie Arc. Up In Arms. Biddulph Town Hall. 10/6/22.
Delayed by that nasty Covid 19 malarkey Magpie Arc’s presence has so far been cleverly managed online and through a series of EPs available from their website. Yet here they are on only the second date of their debut tour and a capacity crowd buzzing with anticipation shows the faithful are anxious to see the band run through their paces. Change in core membership with the departure of Adam Holmes and the arrival of Findlay Napier was handled discreetly in house so you’d scarcely notice the difference.
Opening with a short set from all the solo artists, Napier, Nancy Kerr and Martin Simpson, then introduced the engine room, Alex Hunter (bass) and Tom Wright (drums,) before we got down to Magpie business proper. It’s been mentioned on this website and elsewhere about the potential of this band to bring a new angle to folk rock, that still holds after watching them on stage. Magpies have always been tempted to pick up shiny objects and put them to better use. Magpie Arc use the same modus operandi. Theirs is a glorious melange of roots from both sides of the Atlantic as well as their own writing, which in the case of Nancy Kerr is almost always rooted in British tradition. Martin Simpson on the other hand is an immaculate guitar player, his slide and picking sublime, his precise rolling melodies under pin the American slanted material with canny runs and thoughtful diversions. Yes, there were one or two dodgier moments which induced grins all round but they’ll soon be ironed out as the band play in the songs across the summer. Come their promised autumn schedule you can bet they’ll be sh*t hot!
Highlights amongst many, Martin Simpson’s rejected film soundtrack (Hollywood y’know,) has found a home in the band’s set, it shifted like a cat on a hot tin roof and proved a nifty addition to the repertoire. Simpson also shone with Si Kahn’s ‘What You Do With What You Got,’ a wonderful cyclical guitar figure, the biting lyric much to consider in these strange times. ‘Greenswell,” rose and fell on a sonorous, rousing tune, Nancy Kerr’s ‘Darling Charms,’ was a melodic delight, which showed their British sensibilities in a strong arrangement that edged towards power pop and spiky guitars; my mind was turned towards Trees for a few seconds. There was one genuine piece of juiced up trad with ‘Gay Goshawk,’ yet no space for the single of Burns ‘Ae Fond Kiss,’ which is perhaps the band’s most sensitive recording to date. Restore it to favour at once says I.
Still that’s a very minor carp all things considered as Magpie Arc deservedly swept all before them with a performance which solidified their promise. The tip of the hat in memory of Craig Pickering, the late organiser of Up In Arms who booked the gig originally, was a nice touch. With a proper album release later in the year, the possibilities Magpie Arc offer are very enticing indeed. You owe it to yourself to catch this band as soon as you can. Capability, flair and originality rarely come so well wrapped.