Since the Bellowhead Farewell Tour last year, on which Mawkin provided the support slot, the boisterous folk-rock 5-piece have further shot to acclaim, and are quickly becoming one of the top bands on the folk circuit. I had the chance to join them for their opening show of 2017 at Colchester Arts Centre where, due to James Delarre's (violin) absence, they were joined on short notice by a very special guest: Eliza Carthy.
A short support slot was played by local gentleman Stan Harvey, who powered through a repertoire of songs familiar to most regular attendees of a folk club despite a few technical difficulties in getting his guitar plugged in. The microphone provided less freedom of movement, but he was a pleasant warmup nonetheless.
"I Can Hew" was a fun choice of opener for Mawkin, and it was clear from the off that James' absence was not too much of a problem. Carthy was clearly loving the stand-in, with very entertaining stage banter that one rarely sees from a last-minute replacement. Even the obvious mistakes in the fiddly bits (pun intended) become great entertainment, displaying a band at the top of their game.
Despite a quick technical problem, previews from Mawkin's untitled upcoming album went off without a hitch - and I'm sure everyone in the audience is now looking forward to its November release. Carthy's playful use of a lyric sheet in "Song On the Times"; defiantly throwing it into the audience at the end of the last verse stole the show from the song itself a little, but her likeable persona and stagecraft shone through. Especially alongside Nick Cook's energetic melodeon playing, the whole band seemed to be giving it their all. It was nice to finally hear "Wreckers" live, with the sudden electric guitar appearance, as a song that did not make it onto the setlist of the Bellowhead tour. Wider debates among folk song themes were also explored, before a new tune set, and "Jolly Well Drunk" finished off the first half.
The second half opened with some Mawkin versions of songs from Carthy's solo repertoire. "Turpin the Chicken Killer" was good, but was not a good song to open a set with. Nick Cook has previously stood in for Saul Rose in Eliza Carthy's Wayward Band, which also features David Delarre (guitar, vocals), but Danny Crump (bass) did a good job in unfamiliar territory before Lee Richardson (drums) rejoined the band four songs in. More technical problems arose as Delarre's guitar amp blew, and it seemed a struggle to get back into playing on the acoustic guitar instead. Fortunately the rest of the band stepped up well to keep the audience engaged with a bit of improvisation while the amp was changed, and they quickly went back to form with a great rendition of "My Love Farewell" quickly followed by "Shanghai Brown" which went smoothly... until the most major incident of the evening with Delarre completely forgetting the lyrics to the last verse. Carthy helped him through it, but despite Crump's and Cook's attempts to play it off it was not covered up as professionally as previous mistakes.
Delarre managed to save face after the song though, with the explanation of a long and stressful series of days getting the tour together. Indeed, it has been a bit of a silly show as they point out, but fun for the most part. They returned for an encore, and Merry Mawkin finishes things off on a nice energetic note; I just wish there were less chairs - the band really suited the standing gigs of the Bellowhead tour a lot better in my opinion.
Overall, the second half seemed a bit more forced than the very fluidly entertaining first. It was nice to have the rare (in folk gigs) element of percussion and electric bass echoing loud and heavy in the great acoustics of the hall throughout, which brings brilliant depth to the live sound of the violin, guitar, and melodeon. The spontaneity of the evening was also a good factor, so perhaps Eliza Carthy should join as full time 6th member! Even without her input though, Mawkin are still a fantastically entertaining live band.
Rating: 7/10 - though it would be an 8 with more practice.