Folk harmony band the Cornshed Sisters have been steadily building up a loyal following. We reviewed their debut album, Tell Tales back in April, and late July saw the band play a highly atmospheric gig at St Pancras Old Church in London. Her appetite already whetted by an appearance by the band on 6 Music, Louise Allan went along
Barry M-fingernailed hands up: I was a huge Kenickie fan in the 1990s. No, I’m not talking about the quiffy one from Grease. I’m talking about the wisecracking peroxide-pop band from Sunderland, of which the teenage Lauren Laverne was a member.
My music tastes have changed since then, but the Cornshed Sisters leapt into my consciousness when I heard the familiar cackle of Marie Nixon, aka Marie du Santiago from Kenickie, on BBC 6Music’s Marc Riley show.
The tunes couldn’t be more different, but the Cornshed Sisters share a mischievous, choir-girls-gone-bad sense of folly with my teenage favourites. I’m secretly really excited to see Marie tonight, tottering around outside the venue with a beaker of wine, working the crowd of friends who have come down to the gig, and queuing for portaloos with the rest of us.
The Cornsheds are clearly making a name for themselves on the north-eastern circuit with their debut album, Tell Tales, and natty live performances. Tonight they bring the party to London’s Kings Cross: not the sparkling new train station and not, thankfully, that headache of a roundabout, but a venue perfectly suited to the band’s minimal, folky harmonies.
St Pancras Old Church is arrestingly peaceful, small and beautiful, with neat pews and, tonight, a miniscule makeshift bar serving beer and wine to hipsters and folkies enjoying the balmy evening.
Let’s go inside. First up is Laura Victoria and her cello, a sweetly polite young lady with amber hair who definitely ends every sentence of her emails with an exclamation mark. But don’t be fooled: she lets rip with each song. Her set covers traditional folk songs and jazz standards; her voice evokes Nina Simone one minute and Tori Amos the next. There are sombre moments, but she can rock out with that cello when there’s a sour relationship to batter into the ground.
The Cornsheds shuffle onstage to the strains of Radiohead’s ‘Little By Little’ and launch into ‘Dresden’, a belter of a song by Les Cox Sportifs about the battlefield that is lurve, which bleeds into the chocolatey guitars and tender harmonies of ‘Soft White’.
It’s immediately obvious this isn’t going to be any ordinary church service. It feels a bit like your mates from school putting on a show at your local village fete: a jolly atmosphere, excited smiles and plenty of banter, with songs about quaint English things like roses, pies and beekeepers. Marie urges us to fill in the gaps in their between-song chatter in our minds, as “all our usual banter is too top shelf for this place”.
It’s nicely rough-and-tumble, but the sounds are slick. The ladies each get a turn at being lead singer while their mates tinker away with ukuleles, keys and handclaps, and they all sound great.
Jennie introduces ‘Tommy’, sung a cappella, as a song she began writing age 11, “inspired by the Waterbabies and Fairport Convention”.
The tone turns mournful for ‘Dance At My Wedding’, a twinkly tune that yearns for the friendship of a significant other and contains darling lines like “He made me laugh so hard that I didn’t think about if I looked ugly.”
‘The Beekeeper’ sounds all sinister and medieval, with Nick Drake-like bassy guitar picking and lyrics about “a young man woe-betide”. ‘If You Were Mine’ conjures up sunshine, pin-curls and bouncy dresses.
I try to block out a man filming the gig with an iPad, who is killing my olde-worlde vibe a tad.
The Cornsheds think encores are as weird as I do, so they do a little pantomime leap for the vestry before coming back to raucous applause. Their last song is a cover of the Beach Boys’ ‘Good Vibrations’, which is immense. If anyone can take on the Wilson harmonies, it’s these four.
From the pew behind me, a man with a dramatic moustache yells, “LOVELY!” and claps loudly after every single song. He’s spot on. I don’t know about everyone else, but I’ve never left a church with such a big smile on my face.
Picture of the Cornshed Sisters staring with a mixture of expressions ranging from curiosity to horror at a pie with a hand emerging from it. Provided by Hermana PR, with thanks