There is something undeniably lovely about the quiet voice that has important things to say. On the first properly Spring-like evening of the year, two fantastic bands were gently insistent and spoke of the beauty around us. Christina Alden & Alex Patterson and The Lost Trades effortlessly showed the best of contemporary folk song. 

Christina Alden and Alex Patterson have been playing together for twelve years and their natural connection is obvious. They also have a striking connection to nature itself, with animals, rivers and fens peeking their heads out repeatedly.

Their brand of folk spans continents, there’s a hint of old timey Appalachia in Alden’s banjo but Patterson’s violin conjures sweeping English murmurations. When singing of their two-year old daughter, on Etta’s Song, they are personal and tied to home yet The Fox Song tells of a journey that spans miles. They are local and global, rooted in England, keeping an eye on the world. 

Alden’s voice is gorgeous, it is pure, high and utterly infused with the world around her. She sings from the point of view of a 500-year-old shark on The Greenland Shark and tells tales of polar bears and foxes, reaching out from their environments and drawing people towards those animals. Her’s is the heartfelt conviction of the gentle naturalist, the knowledgeable voice that needs to be heard.

Patterson’s voice joins her for much of the evening, bringing lovely harmonies and confirming convictions. Time and again, they involve the audience too, encouraging singing of choruses and, by doing so, they make this folk music communal, making us part of their natural fascinations. There’s anger too, though. Patterson takes (quite polite) swipes at Tories who allow water pollution and the heartless Daily Mail, people who wantonly destroy the good that is around them. On Waterways, the banjo, the violin, the harmonies, the singalong all converge to create an acoustic, peaceful beauty that protests with far more authority than louder voices. 

When Alden & Patterson look towards America lovely things happen. Bonny Blue Eyes is taken from an Ozark songbook from the 1920s and allows Patterson’s violin free reign, as does the sea shanty Blow Boys Blow. The spirit of bluegrass, of the freedom of mountains and valleys, of high adventure is thrillingly evoked. Even better is a wonderful cover of Fleet Foxes White Winter Hymnal. They play it because it’s “enjoyable” but it’s just glorious.

The Lost Trades have the relaxed attitude of a team on home turf. Folk-y in the very widest sense, they combine soaring Fleetwood Mac-style harmonies with great songwriting and win over Downend hearts with ease. Little Blackbird, taken from their latest album Petrichor, sees Tamsin Quin, Jamie Hawkins and Phil Cooper creating sunshine-filled magic.  Three songs about the loss of loved ones dominate their short set, with Long Since Gone being the standout. The flutter of a heartbeat rhythm, acoustic gentleness, wonderful harmonies and a warming heart-hug. Christina Alden, Alex Patterson and The Lost Trades may not be the loudest voices in the room but every single thing they say is worth listening to. Their love of everything around them is infectious and incredibly warming.

Words: Gavin McNamara

Photos: Chris Dobson