For the love of folk

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Moulettes & Plato's dream machine - Madliena Cottage 20/08/2010 {Dean Muscat, Published in The Times of Malta, 25/08/2010 p.24 }

Malta has had its fair share of music events catering for the general masses this summer, large scale concerts headlined by big names. However on this warm Friday night at the remote Madliena Cottage, a different kind of musical spectacle is to take place. A crowd of about three hundred people have congregated to enjoy a night of, what can only be loosely termed as, neo-folk. The venue’s garden terrace is decorated with overhead patchwork triangle-flags, and above the small rustic stage a few glowing candle lanterns dangle idly. This may be a low key affair, but it has spirit and geniality.

First to take the stage are new local sextet Plato’s Dream Machine, who have also released their debut EP at this event. The band come across as the illegitimate offspring of New York based gypsy-punk band Gogol Bordello, who have been busily educating themselves in classicalist and nihilist philosophical thought. For most of their set the band’s performance does feel a little restrained, as if they aren’t yet entirely comfortable playing in front of an audience. It takes them a while to fully let go and enjoy themselves, which is a shame because once they do these guys can really get the crowd going, as they demonstrate during final song Recession Street. A few more gigs under their belt, and PDM will definitely come into their own as a must-see live attraction in the local gigging circuit.

British band The Moulettes start off their set with a traditional folk instrumental duet between cellist Hannah Miller and violinist Georgina Leach. Bassoonist Ruth Skipper and guitarist/drummer Oliver Austin join after this bewitching opening number, and as a four-piece they play Recipe for Alchemy. The sultry swooning vocal harmonies of Miller and Skipper are reminiscent of ‘30s female jazz singers, and add a hauntingly beautiful twist to the band’s folk sound. The musicians’ attire is as distinctive as their sound, a sartorial mesh between ‘swashbuckling pirate’ and ‘bohemian Victorian.’

Cannibal Song’s vivacious bassoon riff cheekily undermines its wickedly devilish subject matter, described matter-of-factly by Skipper as being about “unrequited love and eating.” The outro builds with a gradual accelerando, the intensity and chemistry of these four musicians leaves those watching in awe. They follow with Talisman and another instrumental they dub an “Irish jig”, which sees Leach give an incendiary fiddle solo.

Even if this event does feel more like a friendly gathering of folk music aficionados rather than a serious must-get-my-money’s-worth gig, issues with the sound still remain irritating. It becomes increasingly difficult to be wholly immersed in The Moulettes’ vivid musical narratives when jolts of screeching feedback suddenly come out of nowhere.

Also the constant chatting and laughing of some audience members during the band’s more quiet pieces spoils the magic somewhat, and is needless to say disrespectful to the brilliant musicianship on display. The crowd’s babble, on top of the poor on-stage monitoring, makes it difficult for the band members to hear each other at these points and consequently their intricate harmonies suffer. Nevertheless, the band continue with smiles on their faces.

Skipper explains at one point, “Doom is a word heavily associated with this band.” One can’t help but feel this is meant to be more tongue-in-cheek than literal, especially considering the joviality in their performance. In this fashion is Bloodshed in the Woodshed, which sounds just as if a resurrected Edgar Allen Poe were spitting out his most random macabre imaginings whilst bouncing around on a pogo stick with the legions of hell close on his heels. The music switches with the vehemence of lyrics such as “gutted, berotted, noose fairly knotted,” to the deranged sorrow of the chorus line “Oh darling what have you done, you forced my hand to bloodshed down in the woodshed”.

By the final three songs The Moulettes are in the full swing of things with impromptu ululations, bosom shaking and even a Kazoo solo during Going a’ Gathering. They finish to a unanimous chorus of cheers and applause. Despite the minor technical setbacks, the four Brits seem to have genuinely enjoyed themselves and with hope this will not be the last time they play on Maltese soil.