A Gnoss-talgic return

REPORT FROM Folk at the Froize on June 18th 2023 BY guest BLOGGER kelly bayfield

It was a Gnoss-talgic return to Suffolk last month for Aidan, Graham, Connor and Craig as they made their second appearance at Folk at the Froize in as many years, coinciding nicely on this occasion with Father’s Day. 

We were delighted to have them join us early, in time for lunch and a much needed re-fuelling, having reached the final stop on the English leg of their tour marking the release of album number three, ‘Stretching Skywards’. There was plenty of time to chat, relax and soundcheck before welcoming in the sold-out audience.

Opening the mid-summer evening’s entertainment was Claudia Myatt, a harp and autoharp player from nearby Woodbridge. A gifted maritime artist also, we were treated to a handful of wistfully enchanting songs and tunes from her repertoire, interwoven with tales of her time spent living and working afloat on the seas; it was the perfect preamble to our Scottish friends, whose music is heavily influenced by life in Orkney and the waters the islands inhabit.

‘Stretching Skywards’ centres around the theme of change, but it was reassuring to discover that so many elements of Gnoss’ live performance remained the same: the impeccable musicianship and songwriting, the blistering playing, sensitive story-telling and above all, the good humour and unassuming modesty that is so endearing and notable throughout the show. 

Naturally, a majority of the set comprised of material from the new album, but there was also repertoire from earlier work, most namely ‘Gordon’s’ – one of several tunes dedicated to friends and family of the band – in this case, Graham’s dad. It was only fitting that it be played on Father’s Day, and readily spoke to many of us of our own paternal relationships, with the juxtaposing of the playful with the respectful.

The immaculately delivered hour and a half performance  (with a break for pudding of course!) was not in the least bit hampered by the warm and humid conditions (despite Craig’s warning that this could be the most lethargic set ever played) with temperatures reminding them of a gig they played in Gran Canaria the previous November! With Connor switching effortlessly from whistles to synth, Graham changing from fiddle to electric tenor guitar, Aidan coming to the fore regularly on vocals, and Craig flipping deftly between bodhran styles, the interspersing of vibrant, traditionally flavoured tunes with more contemporary, electronically tinged, romantic folk-pop songs kept the whole evening moving swiftly and sounding fresh; consequently it was over all too soon!

For those of us that have not yet had the chance to visit Orkney, what better introduction could there have been than this? ‘Vore Tullye’ vividly depicts the change from winter to summer and the ensuing battle between the two seasons – the mythical representations of which are native to the islands. ‘Hamnavoe’ – Old Norse for ‘Haven in the Bay’ – is a love song to the unique identity of Orkney and its strong ties to Nordic culture following the eighth century invasions (to which Graham and Aidan mischievously hint at their would-be resemblance to their Viking ancestors!)

To regale virtuosically whilst story-telling and picture-painting with song, is in the job description of any discerning folk musician, but to fully suspend an audience, inviting them warmly into your world and allowing them to dance with the spirit of place and its people for just a brief moment in time, is a rare skill that cannot be taught. It is in the unsung, the unplayed and the unspoken where the honesty, humility, passion and connection thrive, and everyone left Froize that evening, taking four new friendships with them, and a piece of Orkney in their hearts.


Guest blogger