Gilmore and Roberts TitleWell, it has to be the oldest building I’ve ever seen a gig in; The Blue Boar in Maldon is about 650 years old and I think The Stones played the opening night. This time it’s folk duo Gilmore and Roberts bringing their blend of fascinating narratives, powerful vocals and constantly changing instrumental arrangements to rural Essex. The Blue Boar gig is the second night of their UK tour in support of the new album “Conflict Tourism”, which was reviewed here a couple of weeks ago, and it’s obvious that after a few weeks in Europe, Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts are up to speed and raring to go.

I’ve watched a few duos this year and it’s always fascinating to see and hear how two people create diverse and dynamic arrangements for their songs in a live setting. In this case, apart from the obvious blend of two very good voices, you have Katriona’s mandolin and fiddle playing and Jamie’s lap acoustic and standard acoustic playing with a little bit of help from a loop box and a stomp box. Both Katriona and Jamie are warm and engaging between songs, breaking down the barriers between the audience and performers with some gentle self-deprecatory humour, while giving a bit of background with the stories behind the songs.

The first half opened with “Fleetwood Fair”, a song with a traditional lyrical theme featuring Jamie’s lap acoustic guitar with finger percussion, which worked perfectly; superb playing which enhanced the song rather than showing off the technique and the audience were hooked from the start. The two sets were a mix of earlier material (mainly from the 2012 album “The Innocent Left”) and “Conflict Tourism” songs but also a mix of the lively traditional stylings (“Scarecrow” “Peggy Airey”, and “The Stealing Arm”) and the more introspective and sparse singer-songwriter material like “Balance/Imbalance” and “Time Soldiers On”.

The standard was high throughout the set, but there were some breath-taking highlights. During “A Selfish Man” (from “Conflict Tourism”) the audience supplied one part of the vocal counterpoint as the song built to a rousing finish, but Katriona and Jamie had saved the most poignant moment for the encore. There seems to be a bit of a trend towards finishing the night with a completely unplugged song; when it works it creates a sense of intimacy that you don’t often find even in small rooms. This time it was an inspired choice as Katriona and Jamie stepped off the stage to deliver a lovely version of the new album’s closing song, “Ghost of a Ring” to round the night off perfectly.

Gilmore and Roberts have created an intriguing blend of traditional and modern elements in their music, using ancient lyrical themes such as the supernatural (“Jack o Lantern”), potent true stories (“Doctor James” and “Peter Pan”) alongside more modern introspective styles, while adding elements of technology and modern rhythms and techniques (“Cecelia”) to build up the layers of their live sound. It’s an intoxicating brew and you really should make the effort to see them on the remainder of the tour.