"Thank you for eating pizza in front of us while we were working," announced a jovial Eliza Carthy, but it was a little hard to tell if she really was joking, for this had been a curious show. Folk music is normally heard in pubs, clubs or concert halls, and it was a brave move to invite traditional musicians into an intimate restaurant normally associated with cabaret or jazz. There was only one problem - there were far too many empty tables. Which was all very mysterious, for the line-up on the little stage included a batch of folk celebrities who could normally expect to pack out far larger venues.
Eliza Carthy is one of the leading figures of the current folk revival, known both for her solo work and collaborations with her parents in Waterson: Carthy, while the Ratcatchers include Jon Boden and John Spiers, the hyper-active duo whose many activities include the leadership of the highly theatrical and much-praised folk big band, Bellowhead.
As a result, the Ratcatchers only have limited time to spend together, and though this was surely one of their more low-key performances, it was still a stirring reminder that they are one of the most compelling and adventurous bands in the country. Carthy does not believe in easy-listening. She started out alone on stage backed only by her own adventurous fiddle work, with a graphic traditional tale of death and decay followed by a powerful Robert Burns song about slavery.
Once the full band came on, she changed direction yet again, from dance tunes to sturdy traditional ballads and Billy Bragg's song, King James Version, now backed by three fiddles, melodeon and tuba. The encores included yet more variety, with stirring a capella four-part harmonies. It was highly impressive, but would have been better still if the band had the audience they deserved.