Awesome, spellbinding and epic, as part of their Shadow Navigation Tour, Jo Beth Young & Serious Child were in St Mary’s Church, Totnes. Andy Hill witnessed to praise-worthy gig
“I am about to utter the most fearsome words in folk,” says Alan Young, aka Serious Child. “This is a song about my grandmother – and it’s a singalong.”
A majestic display of songcraft is enjoyed on a Saturday night under the moody gothic tracery of St Mary’s Church in Totnes. Big themes, muscular melodies, surefooted arrangements, a treat from start to finish.
Alas, I miss opening act Edward Gild, but by all accounts he was great. I slip discreetly into a side pew as Serious Child tells us how lyrics for a song called Brambles were inspired by a chat he’d had with a forensic botanist. Later he did a moving tune about lockdown – risky, as some people might prefer to forget, but he nailed it. Then a deeply emotional number called Light A Candle, written for his younger brother who is in Ukraine, driving ambulances. This is the title track of an EP (out 20.10.23) recorded and released to raise money for the Save Ukraine charity.
Scintillating and delux
Everything sounds so deluxe in the nave. Voices in scintillating harmony, the ever-incredible Ben Roberts on cello, by turns soothing and searing. A band, as one, crafting wave after wave of rich, dark-hued beauty, like an upmarket chocolate bar or excellent bottle of red.
Man alive, Jo Beth Young is brilliant. A voice soaring and supple, a sublime feminine foil to Serious Childs manly undertow. They share a delicious chemistry. And good stage chatter, like recounting a hilarious ‘folk accident’ about a time recently Alan got his cardigan snagged on a harmonium. Jo Beth incanted her way dramatically up the aisle to the stage at the top of the show, then swiftly joked how she’s “not one to make an entrance”.
There’s a lot of chit-chat between songs, which is a good thing actually here because the songs are so epic it’s handy to have a little context going in. Like on the one song Jo Beth tells us is an exercise in catharsis, encouraging us to howl like wolves at the end, which we mostly do. “You’re the best at howling so far on this tour,” Jo Beth notes appreciatively. “Maybe it’s a Totnes thing.”
At the close of the night she tells a tale of beautiful Buckfast Abbey, just up the road from here. How it was of course better known to her in younger days for its furiously potent tonic wine. Until! On a recent visit, reeling from heartache, Jo Beth Young was spellbound by an image of Jesus Christ, had a revelation and was ultimately baptised as a born again Christian.
An older gentleman behind me, wearing the collar of the clergy, could barely contain his glee at this rare shout out to the Lord. Whatever god you believe in, know this – the music of Jo Beth Young and Serious Child deserves nothing but praise.
All images courtesy of Katie Whitehouse
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