At the same time as we’ve had a thread about husband/wife/partner musical teams and now the can-they-can’t-they musical breeding discussion kicked off earlier this week, I’ve been casting my mind back over the shows I’ve been to during 2010 and a sense that I’d seen a lot of sibling acts. I’ve also been giving some thought to what it is makes these groups a little bit special.
There’s a familiarity that closely related performers have from having known one another most of their lives and likely started performing together quite early on. The community of the family reflected in the harmony of siblings performing together. Sounds good until you think about how the nuclear in the nuclear family can show itself – the Gallaghers and the Davies’s spring to mind; not a lot of harmony there.
Anyway here are some notes around gigs seen this year:
The Unthanks – Union Chapel 1 June
Centred around sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank, who come from a musical family in the North East of England, clearly enjoy playing and dancing together. There’s a lot of banter between songs and plenty of laughter. And the clog dancing piece of the show adds a nice touch. The blend of voices – perhaps due to the shared DNA – is a treat.Video
First Aid Kit – Garage – 13 July
Another pair of sisters; the group comprises Johanna and Klara Soderberg supported by a drummer. The singing is again more of a blend than tight harmonies but they’re both charming and disarming when performing. At the Garage they topped off a classy set of folky songs with a Gram cover.
Quebe Sisters – Luminaire – 3 August
I’d never seen a group like the Quebe Sisters. All three are exceptional fiddlers and close harmony singers. Supported by a guitarist and stand-up bass player the set was made up of old time tunes some
western swing and some more on the bluegrass end of the spectrum. The Quebe Sisters give the impression they’ve played together every day of their lives.
The Felice Brothers – Troxy – 15 September
The two remaining Felice Brothers, now that Simone’s off doing his own thing, put on a rousing show at this former bingo hall in the East End. Ian and James are quite a contrast with the former taking the lead for the more sensitive numbers while the latter steps up when the going gets more boisterous. Harmonies with the Felice Brothers are a bit more rough edged.
Court Yard Hounds – 1 November – Union Chapel
After 10+ years playing with Natalie Maines, it’s been interesting to see the Erwin sisters – Emily and Marti playing on their own again and with a new album out. I never got to see the Dixie Chicks live and what
was especially interesting with the CYH was the amount of time they played together ie on the instruments rather than just singing. Older than the other acts above, there’s clearly a lot of water under the bridge with these two and it shows in the loose (in a good way) performance. The show would have benefitted from a smaller backing group and someone having asked the venue about the curfew. The first might be down to a lack of confidence on their part after all the big tours. Be good to see them taking chances.
Sara Watkins (with Sean Watkins) – Borderline 11 November
Billed as a Sara solo show and focused heavily on her eponymous record, brother Sean was on stage the whole time, played. Sang harmonies and did a few songs as lead vocalist. They’re still pretty young even if they’ve been performing together forever. The voices fit one another to a T and the playing is equally complementary. They were joined for a few tunes by John Paul Jones who produced Sara’s album.
The Sadies – Garage 30 November
Dallas and Travis Good are the brothers at the core of The Sadies. They swap leads, rhythm and even play the left hand parts on one another’s guitars at one point during the show. Emphasis with the Sadies is more on the instrumental working together than the vocals although those had more emphasis on the new album.
None of what’s above is any kind of scientific sample and doesn’t prove a thing. But the seven acts represent a range of styles, geographies and genders. And I did come away from these shows feeling that there is something a bit special that comes out when you get siblings performing together. Have to see what comes along to change my mind in 2011.