Coven are a six-piece folk collective made up of three fine folk acts; O’Hooley & Tidow, trio Lady Maisery and songwriter, activist and performer Grace Petrie. I’ve seen O’Hooley &Tidow last year at St. Georges and loved them, so I was thrilled to go back to the same venue and see them as part of this feminist folk group on their tour leading up to International Women’s Day. I also took my nine-year-old daughter with me on the night, because, well, you are never too young be inspired to smash the patriarchy…
As soon as Hazel Askew, Hannah James, Rowan Rheingans, Belinda O’Hooley, Heidi Tidow and Grace Petrie came onto the stage, they brought an air of informality that immediately put me at ease. I remembered what I liked the most about seeing Belinda and Heidi at St Georges was the humour and warmth that they weaved into the evening as they performed, and the rest of the Coven women also have this way of performing and connecting with the audience. I’ve seen some excellent performers who lose something by their inability to connect with the audience; Coven manage to connect with the audience so naturally that it feels like you are seeing them in a much more intimate venue. Now, many might think that folk music is not for them, but if beautiful voices, perfect harmonies and skilled instrumentalists do it for you, then Coven might just be the introduction to folk that you need. Playing a selection of songs from each artists back catalogue, new life is breathed into the material as they combine their awesome talents. Even though each group or individual are able to be distinct and true to their style, nobody takes too big a lead and when their voices combine its seamless. I’m already an O’Hooley & Tidow fan and I also loved Lady Maisery (new to me, but I will be seeking them out and thankfully I found out they are playing the Bristol Folk Festival in May with Grace also on the bill) but my new hero from the night has to be Grace Petrie. The messages in her songs ring clear and true, with songs like If There’s a Fire In Your Heart providing a welcome little bit of optimism in our difficult political landscape. Despite discovering a new hero though, I must remain loyal to Belinda and Heidi and so was pleased they played their song Beryl, as it makes me smile and smile! There were many highlights throughout the evening so it is difficult to pin down just a few, but their cover of Kate Bush’s This Woman’s Work was beautiful and another favourite of mine was Coil & Spring which is a homage to Pussy Riot and their protest singing in a Russian church. My attention was held rapt throughout, but its a great measure of how powerful yet accessible they were that my daughter was equally as enraptured. Finishing the show with an a cappella version of the song ‘Never Turning Back’ was a perfect way to draw to a close and so perfectly demonstrated how well their voices harmonise with each other. It was spine tingling in the incredible acoustics of St Georges.
We absolutely loved this show, both for the wonderful musicianship and the uplifted feeling we were left with afterwards. The Coven EP ‘Unholy Choir’ which we picked up on the night has been on repeat in my car ever since, and it makes my maternal bosom swell with pride that BOTH my girls are now singing a couple of the songs alongside each other in harmony. OK, my six year old may just be a little bit too young for patriarchy smashing just yet, but I am hoping that by surrounding them with strong independent female role models I am planting a seed which will see them grow into strong independent women themselves. I also think that the feminist folk of Coven are a pretty cool thing for them to be into. And hearing a six year old who is nearly word perfect on If There’s a Fire In Your Heart also makes me smile and smile.
You can find out what else is on at St Georges here.
You can also follow Coven on their Facebook page here.
Review by Karen Blake