Following on from some high-quality floor singers and musicians and introduced as ‘The best thing to happen in British Folk in years’, Virginia had a lot to live up to. In a gig of two halves, she managed to be a winner in both!

Playing away from her usual berth at the helm of folk-rock leviathan Merry Hell, her solo gigs have taken on a distinct pattern. The first set sees her appearing solo, accompanied only by her guitar, and even that is discarded on occasions as she delivers the occasional a capella number, while the second set introduces her Rolling Folk project – but more of that later. Harking back to Merry Hell, the first number is a version of The Ghost In Our House, delivered as it was first conceived, just a voice and a guitar, and offers proof that a good song is a good song, however it is delivered. The remainder of the set, delivered to a thankfully full house offers a mixture of songs from her solo albums and versions of others from the Merry Hell back catalogue. Having been variously described as a cross between Joni Mitchell and Victoria Wood, there is plenty of evidence as to why, as she ranged from the fragile, lyrical and certainly unconventional to laughter inducing observations and commentary – be they stories, such as ‘The Butcher and The Vegan’ or self-referential, as she finished with the tour de force that is ‘Violet’ – or V.I.O.L.E.T. to be more precise.

After an interval, providing an opportunity for a good chat, a decent pint and a disappointing raffle, the aforementioned Rolling Folk made their way through the audience and proceeded to match the entertainment levels of the first set, albeit in a somewhat different manner. The Rolling Folk consists of Virginia (naturally), her husband and Merry Hell cohort John (unsurprisingly) and multi-multi-instrumentalist Chris Lee, and master percussionist and whistle player Mark Wooley – both stalwarts of the Cheshire Folk scene and beyond, counting The Time Bandits, Full House, A Band On Ship, Galleon Blast, Kingfisher, The Bad Shepherds and much more among their past and current glories.

The additions allowed Virginia the opportunity to branch out in a variety of directions – with songs ranging from the achingly fragile, reflections on love lost, found and possibly lost again, musically upbeat reflections on life lessons and the joys and otherwise of motherhood, see ‘Sailing on the Inside’ and ‘Growing, Growing, Gone’, and the spellbindingly percussive ‘Butter Song’, which, despite the calibre of the musicians, relies solely on tapped beats and Virginia’s voice after a stunning woodwind introduction from Mr Woolley. Much of the time, the arrangements are sparse, accentuating the songs and giving the lyrics space to breathe. Chris Lee’s bass being a case in point – beautiful in tone and depth, he plays fewer note in the whole set than many will play in a single verse and is all the better for it. For those familiar with Merry Hell, this is a different, more intimate experience but equally satisfying. Given how prolific she is as a writer, this is a necessary outlet for Virginia, an outlet for those songs that do not fit the energy of the big band but retain their spirit and accessibility – as most songs saw the audiences singing along by the second chorus, having fallen in love with them during the first. A special mention for her song ‘Trouble’, destined to become a mainstay of whatever gigs she plays.

Finally, a mention for another local hero – Claire ‘Fluff’ Smith. The underlying concept of The Rolling Folk is that, in addition to the core members, there is room for additional contributions when the situation and personnel allow it. Her violin was a welcome addition to several songs as she joined the band – and her smile as she contributed to the inevitable encore of Virginia’s folk anthem ‘Bury Me Naked’ was worth the price of admission alone.

With more gigs being lined up for the New Year, and a debut album ‘East of Elsewhere’ set for a February release (watch these pages for a review), this is another band that will gather no moss!

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