Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar have been gigging together for only four years but, in that short space of time they have released two well received albums and picked up a couple of folk awards. Live work is what they do best however and this first DVD of the duo in concert is evidence as to why they are so popular at folk clubs and festivals around the county.
The film presents a complete concert recorded at the Theatre Royal on the 25 June 2014. Although for most of the time Russell and Algar are alone on the stage they are joined for some of the numbers by pianist Giles Deacon, who adds a jazzy touch to some songs and tunes.
Directed by Ed Cooper (who also helmed both Bellowhead DVDs) the concert is a straightforward presentation of the gig. The camerawork is deliberately unshowy and lets the performance speak for itself.
The material that Russell and Algar have chosen for this gig is mostly drawn from their two albums although, as both of the musicians say in the accompanying interview, the way some of these pieces are performed has changed over time.
Take the opening tuneset, The Clumsy Lover. The album version is taken at a much slower place, whilst on the DVD Algar’s fiddle playing is much more confident and he is able to play at speed without losing the sense of the melody.
Russell’s singing has also developed and his powerful voice belies his tender age. He is at his best on the slower songs such as The Call and Answer and Davey.
The highlight of the concert is surely the masterful rendition of the traditional ballad, The Rose in June. This epic song is finely sung by Russell with sensitive accompaniment by Algar and Deacon. It’s bolstered by the singing of The Cumbrian All Chaps Choir. It’s a fantastic opening to the second half of the gig.
On stage, Russell seems to be the (slightly) more serious one of the pair. He introduces the songs and encourages the crowd to join in with the choruses. Algar cracks more jokes, most of which work but there’s the occasional dud. Indeed, on more than one occasion Algar says, with misplaced confidence, that what he’s just said will be cut for the DVD. As the gig runs to over 110 minutes it seems very little, if anything, was removed.
A thirty minute interview with the duo is the one notable bonus feature on this DVD. This extensive talk sees Russell and Algar discuss how they first met, their two CDs for the Fellside label, touring whilst still in full-time education and how they go about choosing material. They come across as confident young men who know their own mind but not so arrogant as to be unable to take advice from others.
This In Concert DVD is a fine snapshot of Russell and Algar’s musical career to date. For those who have never seen Greg and Ciaran perform live it is the perfect opportunity to discover just what all the fuss is about. For the rest of us, it’s a reminder of just how good and exciting live folk music can be. Highly recommended.Stephen Witkowski
Released on Fellside Records, 2 March 2015. Includes interview with Russell and Algar.
1. The Clumsy Lover Set
2. The New Railroad
3. Roses Three
4. Marshall Riley’s Army
5. Cold Missouri Waters
6. The Dancing/Miss Lindsay Barker
7. The Queen’s Lover
8. The Rose in June
9. Slant jigs
10. Two Magicians
11. Royal Comrade
12. The Call & Answer
13. Love is Life
14. Away from the Pits
15. George’s Set