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Entries in Black Twig Pickers (2)


Black Twigs

"We're going to play two sets, so I hope you stick around and dress accordingly", said Mike Gangloff, opening proceedings.

Another splendid gig from the Black Twig Pickers at Brighton's Prince Albert last night, three parts wondrous to one part bonkers. It is great to hear a folk tradition coming to life in so unforced and unacademic a way, with their own songs blending seamlessly with the traditional material they play.

I've raved about this bunch before. A highlight for me last night was 'The River's Flooded And Robin's Drowned', the plot of which is delivered pretty succinctly by the title: Robin gets stuck trying to drive across a flooded bridge but, after being rescued, tries to go back to his recover his gun. An American parable that could have been written last week, 50 or 100 years ago, give or take a few engines.

Banjo, fiddle, washboard, shared mics, hollerin', Appalachian dancing, fiddlesticks. What more do you want?


The Black Twig Pickers, Brighton, 10 July

Just when I was feeling regretful about not heading up to Stornoway for this year's HebCeltFest, another distinctive, vibrant and immersive folk tradition comes a-calling here in Brighton...

The Black Twig Pickers brought their irresistible, stomping Appalachian songs and tunes to Sticky Mike's Frog Bar last night and it was, as I commented afterwards to the band's fiddle/banjo virtuoso Mike Gangloff, as if the Anthology of American Folk Music had come to town. But don't be put off: this is no dry musicology, but the living, breathing, dancing, real thing.

The trio come from a corner of Virginia 'where West Virginia is north and North Carolina is south', as Gangloff helpfully explained. For this tour Sally Morgan (fiddle/guitar/dance-calling/slapped legs, etc) joins Gangloff and Nathan Bowles (banjo/percussion) because third core member Isak Howell couldn't make it.

They reeled off two sets' worth of fine music with an endearingly casual stage manner - and some winningly appalling jokes (like the corduroy pillow that is making headlines - you have been warned). The explanations of how they had come to learn (or, in some cases, write) the songs revealed their deep immersion in the local music - like links with Henry Reed's musical family including twins Gene and Dean, now in their eighties but still harbouring a grudge because a birth certificate mix-up had allowed one to retire from the power plant 12 months before the other...

A couple of numbers featured fiddlesticks: Nathan beating out a rhythm with chopsticks on Mike's fiddle strings as he played. it was the first time I'd seen it done and it works really well, as part of a regularly shifting dynamic of instrument changes and solo spots. They even managed to get a segment of a smallish but very enthusiastic audience square dancing.

Two hours and a thoroughly deserved encore later, Mike took time to show me his fretless banjo when I asked about it. Talented, charming, authentic, friendly: don't miss them if they're in your town.