On the bitterest of winter night’s with flurries of snow, inside Lowdham Village Hall were Warthog Promotion’s newest guests, the Southern Tenant Folk Union (STFU), were creating the warmest of atmospheres, writes Mark Salter.
Indeed, the gentle laid back sounds of STFU fitted perfectly the candle-lit environment in the auditorium.
‘Is it Bluegrass or maybe Folk?’ asked Mike Hoare, although some might have added Western Swing or Appalachian. ‘No matter. We had the pleasure of being able to hear the group sound checking and we know you’re in for some great music.’ He was not wrong!
STFU have been through a range of line up changes over their seven album lifetime but singer and banjo player Pat McGarvey has been ever present.
‘We’re just happy if folks like the sound we create,’ confided McGarvey, speaking of their un-amplified acoustic playing around one central microphone, a technique that imitated the intimate feel of old music programmes. Delve a little deeper beyond the sweet melodies and you found that many STFU songs harboured a political or protest message. Not surprising, given that their name originates from a farmer’s union in the dustbowl America of the 1930s.
The nostalgic sound created by guitar, banjo, fiddle, double bass and drums belied observations on the current political climate with titles like Leader With Soul, The Media Attack, Join Forces, and Were You Faking When You Kissed Her, a reference to David Cameron’s snap-shot with a baby when campaigning before the last general election. McGarvey explained that it was key political events like the run up to the general election or the European referendum that often inspired him to write. In fact, when he heard the referendum result 24th June he composed a whole raft of songs.
It wasn’t all politics. Fiddle player Katherine Stewart led a couple of tune sets The Islay Crossing, and, Joy Of It, whilst two numbers from older albums sung by Rory Butler also stood out. Rousing, Her Love’s Gone Cold preceded McGarvey’s favourite, inspired by his wedding on Arthur’s seat in Edinburgh, Let Me Wipe The Tears From Your Eyes. One of the most bizarre moments was when Butler explained how all tracks on the 6th CD, The Chuck Norris Project, were written under the said man’s film titles. Unfortunately, for Butler he was landed with Slaughter In San Francisco which brought to mind the thrash rock genre. However, to his merit, Butler crafted a love song in the inimitable STFU style.
A nice touch was the band coming down into the audience for the encore, a rendition of the gospel, Crying Holy. McGarvey conducted the audience in a lively sing-along.