Rachel Newton Trio

King's Place, London

15 April 2016

This is the third time I've seen Rachel Newton live this year (she's in a lot of different bands) but this is the one I have been most looking forward to — the launch gig for her new album.

Unfortunately, the timing is terrible. I've been to another gig just the night before, and I hate going to see a band when the memory of the last one is still the main thing in my mind. Plus I'm tired from the all travelling and the late, sleepless nights in hotels, and maybe this has been one gig too far.

When you see a band with Rachel Newton in it, you have to be seated well before the start so you can see the ritual of Rachel tuning the harp. This takes about three hours and is the best part of the show. Well, ok, no it doesn't and no it isn't, but there's something oddly compelling about it and it's something you just have to be there for. Well. Maybe just me then. But anyway, I'm watching her tune the harp and it slowly puts me in the right frame of mind for the gig and I remember why I've done the journey, and why Rachel Newton is one of the small group of people I will travel pretty much anywhere to see.

Then the trio "officially" come on stage and start with the title track from the new album, Here's My Heart Come Take It, and it's beautiful, and everything is ok and I feel exactly how I ought to feel at a concert. That's how things are supposed to be.

The Rachel Newton Trio is Rachel (obviously) on harp and voice, Lauren MacColl on fiddle and occasional backing vocals, and Mattie Foulds on percussion. It's weird to see a drum kit on stage for a folk gig, but Mattie Foulds isn't there to drive the songs like a rock drummer would, he's there as an accompanist in the true sense of the word, his delicate and inventive percussion enhancing the songs rather than swamping them. (And that's why this isn't a folk rock band.)

The two 45-minute sets fly past. It really doesn't seem like 45 minutes and I actually check my watch after the first set to make sure. There is a mixture of songs from the new album and from Rachel's last two solo albums. Some instrumentals, but mostly songs (with a fairly even split of English and Gaelic lyrics). Her running joke is to apologise for how gloomy all the songs are, being traditional Scottish ballads where everybody dies. And it's true, but despite the doom-and-gloom lyrical themes the music is always beautiful. And the instrumentals are dazzling, and that statement includes all three musicians but obviously primarily Rachel Newton, who plays the harp unlike anybody else I've ever heard and is just amazing to watch as well as hear, whether playing a slow air or a blindingly fast reel. And her voice, of course, is beautiful. She's very chatty between songs, but even after all these years I can't shake the feeling that she's a nervous speaker on stage, and she still seems genuinely surprised when we clap at the end of a song, which is really endearing.

If I were to list highlights, it wouldn't be the new songs — the album is certainly excellent, but I haven't lived with it long enough for the songs to become old favourites. So I loved the older material more, particularly that from The Changeling. The dazzling instrumentals The Changeling Reel and Up The Lum, and the Gaelic song (which I won't attempt to spell) with the most beautiful melody she's ever sung (and interestingly she seems to agree with me), her achingly beautiful arrangement of I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, and the inspired choice of Jolene (yes, that one) as an encore. But really, everything is perfect. Rachel Newton will always be worth seeing, and always worth travelling for, whether with this trio, on her own, or with any of her other bands. She is just exceptional.